Yesterday in the delicate Spring sunshine, in the Cambridgeshire countryside, a solemn group bid farewell to an old friend. Among the grief stricken crowd were former students, colleagues, ex Chile Solidarity members and us Chileans.
Mario Arenas Fernandez, ex member of the Chilean airforce came to the UK in 1976 after suffering a hideous ordeal in Pinochet’s death camps. Thanks to the extraordinary philanthropy manifested by the people of Cambridge he was able to rebuild his life though never forgetting what he’d left behind in Chile. He was a member of the Cambridge dance and theatre group who regularly performed in the city’s guildhall to raise awareness about the plight of Chileans subjected to the capricious hatred of the Pinochet Regime.
As we sat and listened to the tributes, an enormous sense of helplessness engulfed me. I could see it in the eyes of everyone else. It was the sort of panic I experience every time we lose un viejo. The regret of losing the story tellers, the luchadores, the ones who organised the Christmas parties, the human rights events, that connected us to other Chileans and the homeland. Not only were we losing Tio Mario, we were losing a part of our history, that part of our collective selves that connects us to our origins, who helped shaped our identities. By losing Mario we lost a part of ourselves. Forever. Another link in the ever shortening chain gone.
Conversely the funeral had given us a chance, an excuse, to see each other again. We were all thinking along the same lines: feeling a loss of connection and a will to rebuild what Mario and his generation had painstakingly created: a family network when there is none.
Today I am alone. The gloomy rain beats against my window and I feel an emptiness I cannot smoke away or eclipse with the blue light of the telly. I’m guessing this hollowness has filtered through from yesterday’s sad goodbyes and the dead of night fears that death arouse.
The tragedy of exile funerals is overwhelming. Family members not present. The breakdown of community networks. The confusion of where the ‘right’ place to be laid to rest, is: the cold ground of a land we never chose? The hot soil of a country that wanted us exterminated?
Mario’s life and experiences were not in vain. He touched the lives and consciousnesses of everyone he came into contact with and now, after a life of teaching, He’s finally on his way back home.