‘Mensajes Desde Colombia’: The epilogue

An excerpt from my recently published book, Mensajes Desde Colombia: Messages from Colombia (2019), 48 pp. In August 2018, I returned to the United States with more than one hundred messages from Presbyterian churches of the Urabá region, located in the northwest of Colombia. Here I share some of those messages and my own journals about being a peace accompanier. This is a bilingual text in English and Spanish.

In my notes before this Colombia trip in July and August 2018, I’d printed out part of Gabriel García Márquez’s lecture when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. In the fifteen years since publication of his masterwork, One Hundred Years of Solitude, in the 1960s, his awareness had overflowed with the Latin American tragedies of that era—the civil wars, authoritarian governments, and the loss of population in countries such as Chile, Uruguay, and El Salvador. Keeping this broader reality in mind, García Márquez reprised the theme of his best-known novel. He spoke of a reality

not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude. (“The Solitude of Latin America,” 8 December 1982, https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1982/marquez/lecture/)

From my childhood I’ve been interested in the idea of solitude. I tried to climb trees to discover an unknown world, and I found it in the books that I had brought with me to spend the afternoons and sometimes nights in their branches.

The most enduring gift from my stays in Colombia has been to make acquaintance with this other kind of “shared solitude,” rooted in solidarity. Without looking for it, I’d found the world of Macondo to which Rev. Diego Higuita referred in Dabeiba. We acknowledge, tragically, that it’s a reality of massacres and mortality. It’s not paradise, not in the slightest. In Colombia, the pain of solitude already is well-known. The genius of Colombian society—and here I refer to everyday life instead of the corridors of power in Bogotá or Medellín—is how to work despite fears and through a brilliant collective pedagogy. Because of the historically high rates of violence, her citizens have achieved the most advanced levels of expertise about peace. They are authorities on human connection.

In my recent studies of syntax and other areas of the expansive field of linguistics, I’ve thought often about the magical quality of the subjunctive mood in Spanish. The language has a way, despite the real fear life brings, particularly to the lives of many from Colombia, of hiding fear (and hopes) behind a linguistic mask. With the mask of language removed, I appreciate even more profoundly the courage of Colombians I’ve come to know. They’ve also educated me about my own anxieties of separation. In my mind, for example, I sometimes hear the voice of fear that likes to repeat: “I’m afraid of being alone when I die.” My Colombian friends have lent me some inner peace due to their ability to bring the word of G*d to all accompaniers, so that fear abates, so that I believe that I’ll never be alone due to the spirit of G*d (Heb. רוּחַ) that blows gently in my heart.

To order the book for $25: Please send a message to john.turnbull@utsa.edu, and I will place you on an order list. Please supply your mailing address and a phone number for delivery.

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