“To live is to inhabit a journey of impossible closure…
human beings always live in farewell.”
Ethics of compassion
“But who do I tell these things to?
Not certainly You, my God, but in your presence
I count them to all mankind, for small
that’s the part of it that can read these pages.”
Words in a loud voice
I have had the pleasure of enjoying a text whose idea and compilation is by the well-known artist Mirtha Ibarra. It’s a group of letters from whoever your husband was, one of our country’s great filmmakers. His title: Titon. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, return to my steps, published by Ediciones Unión last 2018.
When I open the aforementioned work, for fulfilling the gesture of a friend who kindly provided me with such a reading, I find that in some of the misives disclosed there are surprising opinions. Once again, this review made me note the appearance of that which is called in phatos philosophy, and which I sometimes tell my students: surprise, a sense of joy at a discovery, for something unusual in the research process and that, in sociology, one of the representatives of this specialty named serendipity: fortunate, valuable and unexpected finding that occurs accidentally , casual or by destination, or when looking for a different thing and another appears.
The term serendipity derives from the English serendipity, A word coined in one of his letters by politician, architect and writer Horace Walpole (1717–1797) and meaning “lucky find” taken by him in 1754 from a Persian fairy tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip”, whose protagonists, princes of Serendip Island, present-day Sri Lanka, fixed their problems due to certain chances.
The word serendipity was falling into disuse and virtually no one used it. However, she was rescued due to interest in such matters and even other cultural reasons. A student at the Institute of Ecclesiastical Studies, Father Felix Varela, reminded me that there is a 2001 film directed by Peter Chelsom and starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, with that title, which deals with the “casual” encounter of a man and a woman and a romantic love story. The rich “sweet milk” is attributed to a cook who forgot in the fire a container of milk and sugar, that is, it does not appear as a result of a formal investigation, but a contingency. It is more familiar to our ears the word chiripa, at least until a few years ago it was very common, when something worked out for us randomly we expressed – and I think it is still so – “it came out of the way of a squeaky.”
Mirtha’s proposal reveals a etiity and a way of life from the director of the famous film Strawberry and Chocolate that has proved to me a “lucky find”. Documentary testimonies appear in its pages that enrich a contemporary Cuban social thought worth taking into account. In the book I learned that by being honest in his work – using art as a will for change, as an instrument of criticism, of making the unseen, the unentseen – he was accused of having “ideological problems” and, at certain times, saw him as “suspicious”. Faced with this reading, I see, once again, the arbitrariness of contemporary Cuban life, where the individual is diluted in a country and in an increasingly Kafkaesque world.
Citizen rights are often violated by the same representatives of the State that is supposed to protect them. Just two days ago, three so-called inspectors of the Electric Company showed up at my house, checked every corner looking for me, it seems – because they did not explain anything to me – an alleged theft of electricity. I got nervous, with a screwdriver they handed me the recorder clock, it wasn’t about seeing the consumption, it was about looking for certain clues through a strange procedure. I wasn’t treated like a possible thief, it was about maneuvering in front of an accomplished criminal who, by the way, doesn’t know at all how she can do to alter that device in her favor. Besides, my family doesn’t live with me, I don’t have a business where I can waste electricity. Perhaps the light I consume reading is the “waste” I pay on time every month.
In amazement I observed that only another house and I were objects of such a “break-in” of abode, without more or more. I called the customer service office three or four times, they explained to me that only a gentleman named Ivan who is never, always gathered in other spaces, can handle my complaint. “I advise you to come and wait for him, ” said one of the people he attended. Another asked me, “And why did you let them in?” Good question, I thought they were inspecting the whole neighborhood. I explained that she was the victim of an aggression by them, not a transgressor to devote much time to these types of bureaucrats, and that she was also sick. “Call, keep calling…”. Maybe one day the gentleman will come out and decide who to inspect and answer another nonsense. In an office that is called in the Customer Service phone book they do not have anyone who can pick up complaints. Clearly, an administrator cannot answer calls from an entire municipality. It is elementary that this official needs a team that responds to users’ concerns. There’s no organization, or is it good for everything to work chaotically?
It was very curious to walk around the corner of J and 23 on past days. There I was able to carry out a “participating observation” exercise and reflected on three interesting issues of our present present: this whole area paralyzed due to the repair – in honor of the 500 years of Havana City – of the Coppelia ice cream parlor. In a guagua, the driver commented, “When they open again they will offer ten flavors.” And a uniformed woman added very giggles and looking at her cell phone: “That amount of flavors will last only one day.” No one believes in promises of improvement in services anymore. A great investment to get back to the same thing. Lots of noise and few nuts.
In the face of the announced and hasty deployment of the remodeling of the aforementioned property, appears the second case, all upholstered, the scene of initial works for the construction of a five star hotel, luxury, intended for tourists with a lot of money, now a fashion next to the golf courses. What an irony of the Cuban social project! Justice is proclaimed and injustice is built. On the left and on L street, what remains of the Habana Libre hotel, all unsealed, deteriorated, the result of a supposed general maintenance relatively recent, cackling in the National Television News, knows God how much investment was reported. In the end it turned out to be another failure. And in front of the almost always empty restaurant Siete Mares, the third case, a lady pulled down her pants and I could see that she was unloading her diarrhea on the sidewalk, then with a little water knob she threw some of the liquid on her dirty ass. What should be done in a public bath can now be done in anyone’s sight. I remember a colleague telling her that her sister had emigrated with two children, one of them small. She was once called from the nursery circle or nursery where she had it and gave her a complaint with great alarm: the child took off his pee and peed in front of the rest of the group. We’re what we do. “It’s not so much what we do in life as what we’re going to be doing.”1 I also have an anecdote from two women who walked into a movie theater. They had to go out in the middle of the film screening because one of them was soaked by a man sitting in the back seat, who ejaculated above his head. We come to total independence, to absolute freedom, everything is allowed, well, almost everything… We already have another vision of Cuban life, consolidated over the course of the last decades, a “strength” of the new times: the one that does not see, the one that stops looking.
I do not intend definitive answers, extremely correct, effective one hundred percent. That’s not what it’s about. Living ethically does not mean fulfilling certain obligations, applying a regulatory framework, or being faithful to moral, legal, political law strictly. Ethics is born in a certain social context, when, above all, we are aware of each other’s suffering and are able to respond, even if it is not the definitive answer. They tell us about Duty, Dignity, Future with Welfare, what happens is that we have imperfect human beings to achieve perfect issues. It’s an inconsistency. Ethics will only exist when we respond adequately, although the answer may never be very appropriate, when we are sensitive to the unworthy, the inhuman, to which we are not yet considered people.
These dissolved misfortunes that I have narrated do not come from a vanished happiness, I confess that they are born of a really substantial melancholy to Edgar Poe. First of all, I believe that I am entitled to the complaint for a scaly reality. The one that made Virgilio Piñera say at a crucial moment in our destinies: I’m afraid. But attention, it is also Job’s complaint, they are confessions that I made in solitude, I know very well that they and many others are only a season, a passing abode that contemplates in the simple facts a bankruptcy of the truth that demands now to be reformed, because truth transforms life. That demand for truth that many of us did not discuss before now becomes a demand for sincerity, which has to do with individuals, and being honest is a way of feeling like a person.
It is not the knowledge of the real that makes us love him deeply. The value first is the feeling. It is the sage who has the ability to bring his heart into the light, just as St Augustine did. Confessions also lead us to look at ourselves inwardly, it is the moment when life begins to be clarified, because, in short, we offer ourselves in sight, to the gaze that sees everything, to the divine gaze.
The reasons operate only on the basis of trust, “the reason in life works only on something prior, faith, trust, charity… To be transparent is to be believed, to be looked at in charity.”2
The reason must be sweetened, the easiest way is to declare : “we do not understand each other” and even sing those words disahoringly. Morality is a lifestyle, an aesthetic. Although like Seneca, we are always polemicizing, this controversy must have the image of diplomacy, always to agree, to avoid total rupture, the only way to preserve style, to lead life into dignity. That, too, is being a person. Ω
1 Francisco López Barrios: “The Bulimia of Power and the Anorexia of Commitment in Our Modern World”, in The Ethics of Commitment, Buenos Aires, Grupo Editor Altamira, 2002, p. 110.
2 Maria Zambrano: Confession. Literary genre, Madrid, Ediciones Siruela S.A., 2001, p. 55.