The following story is an opinion piece written by one of my former professors at Jacksonville University for the widely read El Pais newspaper online. I liked the piece so much that I wanted to translate it from Spanish to English and share it with my readers, many of whom do not speak Spanish. If you do and would like to read the original article, you can click this link and read it here. If you are a native Spanish speaker and notice an error in my translation, please comment below and bring the specific line or phrase to my attention! I will sincerely appreciate the corrections. Thanks!
Tolerence is the wine for the people by Jorge Majfud
My father was the fourth or fifth child of 12 born in Uruguay to a Lebanese immigrant couple, she was Christian and he probably was too. All his childhood he lived in misery, digging up food from the field to eat, setting his bare feet in the cow manure to relieve the early morning cold with frost, fighting with other poor people for the bones that were left in the Frigorífico Tacuarembó.
He was a school boy when his siblings already worked mixing mortar to make bricks or planting vegetables that later he would sell in their town. When one brother returned from school, the other found him at the entrance of the town in order to put on (exchange) his shoes.
With time, somewhere there in the 1950s, my father successfully made it to the capital city to study carpentry and radiotelephony and upon returning to his town started Fabrica de Muebles, as he called it, besides starting many businesses and founding a Rotary Club and some banking cooperatives successfully. During the day he worked in his pharmacy or looked for some lost cow en one of his fields, and at night, for 30 years, taught classes in the technical school. His colleagues laughed at his ability to fall asleep sitting or even standing on foot.
“If I could go back in life, I would work less and enjoy things more,” was one of the last things he told me on the phone, not out of grief but to give me new advice, that ended up being his last. Our last conversation was lighthearted because one never knows the meaning behind each moment.
One day after his funeral, walking through the old corners of my city from my past lives, as if I took the sadness out for a walk with the secret hope of losing it on some corner, I came across many people, too many at the moment, the majority of whom I did not know or had not been able to recognize after so many years. One of them told me: “I had the best time of my life when I worked for your father. The man knew how to follow through with projects in whatever city and we were all going there together.”
“I was a student of your father,” another gentleman told me, whom I did recognize from some years back. “I was a lost boy when I met him. He gave me my first job and showed me how to be a team. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be who I am today nor would I have the family that I have.”
My perspective, like any other, is not neutral. To me he was an serious e man, generous with his own family and others, even though many would think the opposite. “To some people I am a good guy,” he said, “and to others I am surely a miserable guy. You can't be okay with both God and the devil.” It was not difficult to find faults in him, not because he emphasized this in some particular human way but because it is never difficult to find faults in everyone else. If they say he was already a perfect guy, what would happen if he was preaching democratic love to his enemies and they crucified him for it, what more can one hope for?
This was even more evident in the world of idealistic passions. We always discussed politics. He always clung to his conservative principles and I held onto a rebuttal. Our discussions were intense but as always we resolved them in a simple way:
“Well, I can see now that we are not going to reach an agreement,” he said, “ let’s go have some wine then.”
Of course, someone will say that tolerance is not the wine but the opium for the people. No lesser truth is that its absence in death of the people and worse, the frustration that each one of these concrete lives conform to this mythical abstraction.
I loved him a lot, like any good son can love a good father. But a son never loves as much as a father does. It takes a whole lifetime to come to this realization; some, even, need two lifetimes to understand it and more to begin to accept it. So, one can go about discovering other meanings in old memories, each one more profound.
For example, in several political elections, the old man listed himself on the ballot for their party. I never voted for him. I remember my first time, at the end of the 1980s, I voted for an emerging ecological party. When I arrived home I told my father that I had not voted for him. As always, he took the news with a smile and told me that I had done well.
Now that he has died, I ask myself what in the hell did that idealistic honesty serve for what I presumed that one election day. For what purpose does every tiny cruelty serve? For what purpose does every single small truth, every questionable honesty serve?
What is the point of everything? I asked myself this while I stared at a pile of a hundred letters written in Arabic that his parents wrote and received almost a century ago. I don’t know what they say. I can barely suspect that they are stories of love and heartbreak, of meetings and failed attempts that neither my father never came to know because his also hid his own frustrations, how all secrets of a language were hidden from him that are only used in the most profound way of their two shattered privacies in a clay ranch, in the middle of a field barely close to being able to survive.
What is the point of everything? I went back to asking myself this. So I look at my son looking out the window as I liked to do while my father worked very useless things and I realized that I know the answer. The answer, no the truth. Because one thing is a task, what you should do, and another thing simply is not. There is no doubt about one and about the other, about the truth, probably no one knows it or their own name.
To read more articles and opinion pieces by Dr. Majfud, follow him on Twitter or visit his website, Escritos Críticos.
**This is just a practice translation.I am not claiming that I am providing the official English translation for this article nor am I claiming any ownership or rights to it.** <--just wanted to clarify that!