Heroes

Season 1, I’ve been watching it, I’m entranced, dvd box sets are such dangerous dangerous things. I like how it makes heroism a complex and a simple thing all at the same time.

Tomorrow I’m going to a memorial for my friend Don White, my own hero. I saw him at the CARECEN reunion only a few days before he died…the first time I had seen him in a year or two at least. The last time. He looked the same as always, with his funny black hair, too black, his bushy eyebrows and big blue eyes wide open to the world, so blue, his vague happy smile. He made people happy just to see him, as always. He wandered through the crowd his eyes opening wider as he greeted each new person, his delighted helllooooo, his ‘hola companeros.’

He looked mild and harmless, somewhat exaggerated, even a silly old man perhaps. Thing is that you can never see what people are capable of from their appearance. Never. Old gueriller@s spoke of him fondly, they told stories of him standing on steps in San Salvador protesting and waving a huge flag during wartime, of camping out and eating an iguana roasted over the open fire, stories of him marching, shouting, handcuffing himself to fences, getting arrested, working tirelessly to stop the US involvement in Central America. Everyone I know has a different story, I believe if you added them up you would have enough to fill several lifetimes. And he never stopped. I saw him whenever I marched, in a wide variety of brightly coloured T-shirts. There was nothing he did not care passionately about.

We went to El Salvador together for the presidential elections, official observers with cispes in ’99 I think, almost ten years ago. Only three of us went from LA so we spent quite a lot of time together before we ever left, but my favourite story? I remember it was the day after the elections, we had all returned to San Salvador from wherever we had been sent…I was working with some guys on a report for NPR doing the translations for them and working on the text. It was late, 3 in the morning or so because it had to be done, and we were exhausted and all of a sudden I looked up and there was Don White coming into the little courtyard, his sheet wrapped around him like a toga. Silence fell, I think our mouths dropped open, it was a most unexpected and bewildering sight, we couldn’t tell whether he was wearing anything else. Or whether perhaps we were dreaming…he mumbled something about his roommate snoring, and went to curl up on one of the little wicker sofas in the front lobby where I believe they found him the next morning to great surprise.

There was just such an intense joy of life in Don White, a joy in struggle that you had to respond to, an element of the absurd, an absence of self-consciousness together with a courage that inspired respect, and a single-minded determination to make the world better. And he believed we would win. And it was contagious. And I loved him though I don’t even know his first name. And I’m just one among many who knew of him through struggle, not well but enough to have been impacted by him…since his passing so many different people have brought up the memorial tomorrow, people I never knew even knew him. And I think it shall be a joyful and sad gathering, a bringing together of all sorts of different people working for a more just world, and I can imagine no better celebration of the life of a revolutionary. Hasta la victoria siempre companero.

SIlvio Rodriguez wrote Quiero Cantarte Un Beso and to me it is something of what Don White has meant to me in all my own despair over the pain of the world, el amor que todavia velaba cuando crei que nadie estaba, que nadie respondia. A love that did more than mourn and remember the dead. The answer to the constant question of whether or not humanity still exists, proof that it does. I did not live through the civil war in El Salvador and US intervention that Don White fought so hard to end, only through three years of recording daily the declarations and testimony of those who had. One cannot compare with the other, yet how heavy it is simply to know and to carry the shadows of memories. It is why most look away. To me, he is someone who managed to hate what should be hated, to fight what must be fought without selfishness, to find joy in living all the same and to love and to be strong enough to never forget. It is something to be aspired to.

Quiero cantarte un beso,
mas todo se confunde
entre un millón de huesos
y derrumbes.
Así que el beso huye
con ojos de reproche,
mientras la sangre fluye
por las noches.

La muerte se ha regado
por toda la pradera.
A aquel que la ha sembrado
¿qué le espera?
Dicen que el responsable
nunca ha gastado cuernos,
sino un traje impecable
en los infiernos.

Y vuelve la necesidad
de repasarme dónde estoy,
si existe o no la humanidad
y si se ha visto hoy.

Creí que nadie estaba,
que nada respondía,
pero el amor velaba
todavía.
Y el viejo centinela,
en medio del desierto,
prendió infinitas velas
por los muertos.

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