“Porque en ese vacío vertiginoso las metáforas saltaban hacia el como arañas” Julio Cortázar
My youngest daughter Hilary Stewart paid me a visit today Wednesday. We had a long mid-afternoon lunch and then I took her to her Burnaby yoga class.
Driving back in the nighttime fog I felt a grief that I finally defined in my Spanish as “un vacío”. Because Spanish as a romance language is linked far more to Latin than English, I know that vacīvus is empty in Latin. For me, then, these words have more of an emotional impact. Vacío, vaciar (to empty), hits me in the jugular.
It was in 1958 when our religion instructor at St. Edward’s High School, Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. one day came into our class and performed a little experiment that I never forgot. He brought with him two glasses, one small one, and one bigger. He also had a pitcher of water. He filled both to the brim and asked us, “Which is fuller?”
In the back row, the smartest guy in class, Howard Houston immediately answered correctly, “They are both just as full but the bigger glass has more water.”
The lesson we were then told to digest is that the two glasses represented our human capacity for happiness. Some of us have an easy time at it while others have a tough go.
It was 10 years ago that my granddaughter Rebecca (she was 14) and I were having coffee at a Starbucks on Oak Street. I have no idea why it was that I told her that we could chose in life to be either happy or to be content. It was far easier to be content and those of us who wanted to be happy might never achieve it. I then asked her, “Which of those do you want for yourself?” She answered, “I want to be happy.”
In that car tonight it hit me. Brother Edwin was back in our class giving us an eloquent variant of the full glass of happiness.
My Rosemary and I shared a 52 year marriage together. Sometimes water was spilled and sometimes the glasses (hers or mine) were not quite full. But we had the power to be happy and we were. We lived with the potential of the big pitcher and we had the patience.
People tell me that I have all these memories of having lived with Rosemary in Mexico and here in Vancouver; that we have two well-adjusted daughters and two splendid granddaughters. Would that make us be that Brother Edwin glass with a greater capacity for happiness?
What struck me tonight is that the emptiness I experienced while driving home, is best said in Spanish “ese vacío en mi alma”. It is an emptiness in my soul, a vacant presence that will be with me for as long as I am able to think.