Covid Year Notes (6)  

By: José Antonio Michelena and Yarelis Rico Hernández

Ilustración: Ángel Alonso

We traveled through the eighth month of the year dealing with Covid-19. We would have wanted to live all this time in a capsule, in a hyperbaric chamber, in hibernation, and go outside only when it all happened. But so many things have happened in the global village in these seven months… And what is life without the experience of everyday life, of what happens and happens to us.

No matter how isolated we were, we couldn’t be without hearing the beating of the world, the multiple stories, from the origin and spread of the new coronavirus and the follow-up to the health crisis, to the social effects of an African-American suffocation by a cop in Minneapolis. Isn’t that quite one story?

On the island we have not been oblivious to the events outside, but also inside things have happened. And for everything there are criteria and positions that cause dissequents and shocks when intolerance emerges, the voices that scream louder because they want to be the only ones heard, the ones who believe themselves to be bearers of the truth.

Word New wanted to share the expressions of a group of diverse voices to offer to its readers as a sample of the personal and collective experiences that have been lived in this peculiar and amazing leap year, this twenty-twenty turned quarent(en)a.

We have asked these people to tell us about their experiences in these months, how their days have passed, how they have faced the challenges and what reading they make of what happened, what their ideas are about it.

Osvaldo Gallardo González: God and Love, the best symptoms of our true humanity

On this occasion, the text, at the request of our protagonist, presents it as an interview. A Cuban responds, from head to toe; a Catholic, the same, from the beginning and until it ends; proud of his land and his ecclesial community in that archdiocese. His greatest fortune on earth is the large family he has constituted, the parents he had… For five years now, this Cuban Catholic has emigrated to the United States.

Osvaldo Gallardo’s greatest fortune is the large family that has constituted

Osvaldo, how has it been, broadly speaking, your itinerary for this time of obligatory isolation?

“It’s been unusual, especially that. After five years of febrile activity of a new life, chaotic and a little bumpy like almost every beginning, a mandatory stop is difficult to assimilate. As an itinerary: the first news that you feel distant and do not understand well, and suddenly the closeness of the problem (pandemic); later, my wife loses her job, almost immediately I lose it; bad news arrives from home (Cuba)… then, virtual school for three kids in my home, and having time for things you’re no longer used to and others like going to mass become an absence. It’s been a process of mental and vital care. And right now, when everything had to be calmer, the disease looks like an erupting volcano and the steps we have to take remain uncertain.”

In your case, was this high on the road necessary, high that already exceeds any expectation about it?

“Since I started working in the United States, I haven’t had a Sunday off to go to Mass, and how I’ve asked God! There were times when I used rest time at work to attend Mass, when I could match them, in the chapel at Miami International Airport, on Saturdays at seven o’clock at night, sometimes I could only be at half Mass and run away. I gave the greeting of peace to people I would never see again, and that showed me part of the mystery of the Church. On one occasion, I had to ask the priest for forgiveness, for I was the only faithful and had to leave him alone. Now I’ve had Sundays, and a Easter at home, but not face-to-face masses. Thank God and the Internet, I have had In the room Francis, Archbishop Dionysus and Charity, and, of course, the Camagueyan Archbishop.

“Yes, I needed to stop, who didn’t? Another detail is that my wife and I practically never woke up together in bed. When I arrived she would sleep, and when she went to work it was me who slept. In order to take care of the children, we always try to have opposite shifts in the work of both at the airport. You can imagine what it’s like to strain coffee in the morning for myself. That in Cuba is unthinkable, there are always someone to share coffee with. Sometimes I would send him a picture of two cups of coffee, for this was before our precious time of day. Even one day, I wrote a little poem about coffee and the act of sharing it. A stop is always necessary, but the causes of it have been very painful.”

The perennial estating of the emigration of his loved ones in Cuba is now added to the impossibility of traveling to see them. Did you have, or did your family have, any planned trips to the island? How do you weigh the distance?

“This is an especially sad question for me. On April 15th, I lost my dad when I was eighty-one. And I was hoping I could travel to Cuba to see him in the first half of the year. I haven’t seen him in almost two years. In the same month, five years ago, my mother, still young, had already died just two months after I emigrated. As you will understand, for a broad father like me, for responsibilities and economic issues, it is difficult to travel to Cuba. I’ve done it myself a few times and with very little time. I was with my father for the last time, when I attended Camaguey to present the compilation of texts Monsignor Adolphus: It is good to trust in the Lord, thanks to the invitation of Msgr. Willy Pino, in June 2018. Then I traveled, in September 2019, but only to Havana, to be at the IX National Meeting of History Catholic Church and Cuban Nationality, that event so precious to me.

Último encuentro con su padre, el cual, asegura, “fue especial”.
Last meeting with his father, who, he says, “was special.”

“I know my dad was left wanting to see me, and I wanted to see him, to hug him that last time he felt. But I have despite that feeling, the satisfaction of being able to make our last meeting special. I was able to pamper him and tell him that he had been a great father, that he had done everything right, that he had always been there for me, that he thanked him very much… When I kissed his forehead, and said ‘Daddy, God take care of you,’ he who could hardly speak anymore, answered forcefully, ‘Let him take care of you!’ My father spent his last days under the protection of the Church, care in the Home Father Olallo, for the brothers of the Hospital Order of St. John of God and the health staff, whom of course I thank for so much generosity and request. Then I have the comfort that my father will no longer miss my mother, who was everything to him. I have the certainty of the Beatitudes and the conviction that love never dies, along with a life lesson that makes me feel infinite gratitude.

“To weigh the distance, to balance it, for me it is almost impossible. Distance is a wound I can’t subtract. A wound to which I apply ‘warm little birds’: phone calls, emails, messages, the miraculous chat that brings my mother-in-law every afternoon home, can you imagine? (touch smiles now); the same one that allowed me to see my sister on the eve of her birthday… and who sometimes gives me the virtual presence of friends, and of the ecclesial community we love.”

What have you done to take up your time? How have you creatively taken advantage of the Covid stage?

“I wish I could say that I have participated in some exciting service program, but no. In all sincerity, I must say that my community life here has been mewn by the reality I have described lines above. In this time, I have enjoyed my family, my domestic Church. I have been able to say good night to my children and ask for God’s blessing for them. Laura Maria, the youngest, does not fall asleep without first asking me to speak to Farewell, as she refers to the Father, confused in her spanglish with the prayer of the Guardian Angel, who says in her last line: ‘Pray to God for me’.

“I disconnect the Internet to sit down and watch a movie together and talk. We have eaten again at the table almost always and share the Word at that time. I drink coffee every day in the morning as God commands. I have made an office at one end of the room, hoping to find a job in the future that demands from me a little intellectual effort; I have hung family photos, fixed the few books I have been collecting, installed a printer stored in your box for several years. I’ve ‘killed a dwarf’ from childhood, and bought myself a small fish tank, because in the apartment where we live we can’t have any other kind of pets. Paid late bills, put up to date papers, this family of six carries as many papers and details as any small family venture. And those things were almost always pending, now I have them up to date.

“I have prayed the rosary with a new devotion, after much, dismayed by the sickness of a friend and by reality in Cuba and the world. I have given myself the enormous pleasure of rereading poetry, and as news the last novel by Vargas Llosa and the memoirs of Carlos Alberto Montaner, together with the privilege given to me by my dear friend Uva de Aragón (Cuban writer whom I met in 2011 in Havana thanks to the magazine Palabra Nueva) to read the manuscript of her still unfinished memoirs. And in the midst of all this, I have started editing a book with texts from the blog of my son Pepe, my firstborn, with the dream of publishing it soon; and I write my ‘disclaimers’ on Facebook, where I’m pleased that people like you read to me, and sometimes like it, disclaimers ranging from intimate, familiar, to ecclesial topics about Cuba, or impressions about some particular artist or fact. Ah, I’ve also failed with diet and exercise, but I keep trying.”

What’s leaving you this time? Have you changed anything? Has your family changed anything?

“To be honest, I must say that I have been very afraid, when I was fired from the airport I already wanted it, because it is a very dangerous place in terms of possible contagion. I’ve suffered a lot of anxiety, and I’ve found it hard to deal with the news, to the point of choosing not to watch news. I have understood like never before the fragility of my own and that of my neighbour. When I have reached the top of bewilderment, I have found God and the certainty of His will. At home, we’ve learned to enjoy every day with intensity, and that’s something that can be said easy, but it’s hard to do. Every moment together is invaluable, that’s what I try to teach my kids. We are having a unique lesson from what are the essential things in this life, and these few things can be summed up in fraternal love. I hope the lesson isn’t empty.”

What reflection do you make of this stage? How do you live up the future?

“It’s the hardest question. I think of my two scenarios: Cuba and now the United States.

“The United States in the midst of an election campaign where political extremes have been accentuated and, in the meantime, we are being brutally beaten by the pandemic. Although far from Cuba, physically, very attentive to its reality which is now much more complex and distressing, than in 2015 when I emigrated. It hurts my homeland, where surviving worthily is getting harder and hope seems to vanish out to sea.

“I am frightened that human beings on many occasions, especially in this one, cannot or are not able to see the essentials and often go from long to injustices and attacks on human dignity. I don’t know if the vertigo of this time resembles that of 1918 when the Spanish flu. I don’t know what to tell you from the future. I just hope I can go on living this present and see that future. And may in that future the words God and Love be the best symptoms of our true humanity.”

Osvaldo Gallardo González
Osvaldo Gallardo González

Osvaldo Gallardo González (Vertientes, 1975), professor of Literature, writer and editor, served the Church in Cuba in several cultural and communication projects. Since 2015, he has lived in the United States.

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