Crisis and decisions

“Youth is nothing but a beautiful song that everybody sings; it has a time, a life and its emotion, like everything, it ends”. Armando Manzanero.

Every time we think about youth, our memory is bombarded by images of a phase considered the happiest, most relaxed and vital. Almost everybody agrees that youth is maybe the most fantastic stage of existence, and when we remember it, it removes evocations, breathings and yearnings. We barely reflect on the challenges faced in such demanding period of life.

I was moving about my first years of youth and I remember, with some anguish yet, the crossroads I was facing by then: I couldn’t enroll university as soon as I finished secondary studies, I stridently failed in my attempt to study a systems technical career, and at age 19, I still lived in my parents’ home and was also financially dependent on them.

I was a young man as anybody else, I ran, danced, sang and was appreciated by my friends, but at nights, it was impossible not to worry about inexorable future. It was an unexplained and contradictory feeling: on the one hand, I felt that life was passing by slowly, nothing happened, but on the other hand, I was overwhelmed by the sensation that time passed really quickly, as if I was getting older without doing anything important. Some of my former classmates already worked as operators in the coal mine which was being exploited in the region, others attended university, and I stayed in my house watching the days go by.

Uncertainty blocked my vision of the coming things and dissatisfaction made its disastrous appearance; I was going through the first big existential crisis of youth.

Pushed by the urge to do something with my life, it occurred to me that the best thing for me to do was to start working at the coal mine. They paid higher salaries compared to what an average professional in our region earned and they enrolled school graduates.  I made my decision: I would be a coalminer.

Resolute, during a family meeting, I told them about my immediate plans. There was a silence, my parents exchanged glances and without saying a word, my mother stood up and left us alone. What my father said next, took me directly to two events that had occurred years before and from which I would learn the real lesson that day in the living room of my house.

The first one happened in the early nineteen eighty one, the principal’s office could afford instruments for the first school and town band. Our physical education teacher was in charge of choosing the participants and training them with the support of the musicians of the military base established in our municipality.

Of course, I was one of the first ones to participate, I attended rehearsals three times a week without fail. I chose the drummer because I identified with its martial and particular sound. At home, I hardly talked about it without giving details.

After some time, the band was formed and I was very happy to be chosen.

The next Independence day, we would lead the parade held each year in honor to our patriotic celebration. The thing was that each participant had to pay for the uniform. I supposed that it wouldn’t be a problem and told my father about the cost to be covered.

His answer was a resounding no, without right to appeal. Embarrassed, I told the principal, and, as in life nobody is indispensable, he replaced me right away; so, I didn’t march in the independence parade that year, I was just a spectator as everybody else.

The paternal house is located at the corner of the street which leads to the main town square, where the church is sited and all the parades and processions end up; thus, it was a matter of a few minutes before all the school, headed by the band, passed in front of my house to deepen my sadness.

The parade started early, the sound that went and came through the wind tormented me all the morning and my pain grew as it turned more evident, until the undesired moment finally came and the school march filled the street brightly; the teacher performing as director walked at the front of the parade watchful and proud. The majorettes looked amusing and flashy; the band was impeccable wearing white uniform and red epaulets. Except for some trumpet out of tune, -reasonable for a recently founded band-, they sounded coordinated and harmonious, and, I -possessed by envy-, saw them approach through the window.

My father was behind me, I was dying to reclaim him for his injustice, but instead, I preferred to be quiet thinking that maybe deep inside he would regret that his son was not marching leading the lines of people celebrating such an important date, but when the parade was passing just in front of our house, one of the musicians fainted due to the inclement rays of a burning sun. My father put his hand on my shoulder; he didn’t have to say anything else.

The second event occurred in the same year; in La Guajira department, there was a feeling of hope. The second highest opencast coal mine in the world had recently started operations in the bowels of its desert.

The stigma of a region left behind and abandoned by the central government and the ravages of violence caused by drug traffic, seemed to stay in the past, the coal mine promised richness and welfare.

At school, our teachers considered appropriate to make a visit to the coal mine complex, in order to see the importance of the operations that would bring progress to our town, and of course, to teach a master class about the precious mineral in situ; fourth and fifth grade would attend, we now call them, ninth and tenth grade. 

The principal’s office applied to the mine headquarters for the necessary permissions, requested the parents authorization for the students attendance, asked for a reasonable amount of money to meet the costs of the day out and hired the necessary transportation.

The excursion was promising; the company in charge of exploitation, a huge multinational, accepted the proposal and made arrangements with generosity to receive our visit. All of us were excited, both, students and teachers in the same way. One week before the journey, each family had to send the money to school. My father didn’t do it.

I was the only one who didn’t attend, another embarrassment, it was an injustice! I was angry, sad and perturbed. At the beginning, my father just said that he didn’t have the money, but as my irritation and disagreement passed, he tried to explain that he didn’t like those journeys because almost always some problem appeared and sometimes, they ended up in tragedy. His reasons seemed tragic and exaggerated, but anyway, my opinion didn’t care, I would not go to that excursion, period.

The afternoon of the daytrip, the news spread over the town. In their way back town, one of the trucks which transported the students suffered an unlucky accident. That day, I lost some friends and others got badly hurt. Pain and mourning visited our small community. At home, we never talked about it, maybe for respect to other’s pain, but it was clear to me that my father’s reasons had justification.

<> said emphatically. It was the third time my old man went through my plans.

The ending of the two previous occasions gave me a hint that my father was either clairvoyant or wise; well, I knew that the man was not a wizard, so I started to value his advises, although I didn’t agree with him many times.

I understood in a whole dimension, I think, the importance of obedience. That apothegm became a reality: “the one who obeys doesn’t make mistakes”, although, more that receiving the benefit of obeying, the real lesson, the real value I could appreciate in the uncomfortable decisions of my father, was that they always tried to guide me through the correct road of life. He had the authority of experience and the hopefulness of the kind heart that moves a good father.

That afternoon, the conversation didn’t end in a tense scene, such as the previous ones which frustrated my intentions relentlessly. Actually, my father’s tenacity was like a lighthouse that turned on to illuminate the next path to my destiny.

I would become a professional, I had no idea how I was going to make it; since then, it wasn’t even my wish, I owed it to my father and proposed myself to do whatever it took for him to see his son become a lawyer.

The efforts were huge, but after several years, I made it.

My lawyer diploma is hanging above the desk he sits at to write every day. I think it’s more his achievement and my mother’s than mine.

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