Chilean Chronicles, Part XIX: On Four Weeks in Chile and Time’s Rapid Passage

Around noon of July 28, 2001, Dunreith and I were at our apartment in Easthampton shortly before driving over to Look Park for our second wedding ceremony.

Wearing a navy blue blazer and a Save the Children tie, I laid down on the couch that at times doubled as a bed to catch myself for a minute.

Dunreith’s father Marty looked over and said to me, “Enjoy it, Jeff, because tomorrow it´ll all be over.”

He was right.

Marty’s words came to me when I realized this morning that today marks four weeks since we caught a cab in the early morning from Joe, a 70-something, rail thin gentleman from Louisina, rode to O’Hare Airport and boarded the first of two planes that would take us to Chile.

The sense of accelerating time has only increased since I began teaching my Data Journalism class this week here at the University of Diego Portales and, more basically, as Dunreith and I have started to establish daily routines of visiting baked goods chain Castaño for our daily rolls, zipping into Mercado Providencia for a tomato, avocado, or palta, as they are called here, and some fruit, then getting going with the day´s activities.

On the one hand, this is a wonderful development.

Indeed, the rapidity of time´s passage comes exactly from the experience of establishing patterns of behavior that allow us not to have to think too much or too hard about quotidian tasks. In Evanston, this meant that Dunreith and I knew instinctively where to cross the street during the walks, and often had to just say a word or two to switch directions or change our destination.

Friend and Hoy colleague Rodolfo Jimenez showed me exactly where he would stand each day at the El stop in order to ensure that he got a seat, and the point was also that he was doing a repetitive action.

Being here long enough to start to shift from everything being new and fresh and requiring attention is, after all, a sign that we are settling in just fine and starting to establish the routines that can make daily life more comfortable.

We now chat with Senora Gloria, from whom we bought flowers at the mercado, are getting to know Don Rene in the stand across the aisle from her. Both have come to the Mercado for more than 40 years. (Senora Gloria giggled when that though she´s been at the market for four decades, she just got married four years ago.)

Senora Gloria building a flower bouquet at Mercado Providencia.

Senora Gloria building a flower bouquet at Mercado Providencia.

Both greet us with greater warmth and enthusiasm each time we enter the airy, spacious hall with yellow beams that hold us the triangular roof.

We greet Don Manuel, a mustachioed, grey-haired man who has plied his wares of household goods-Dunreith bought a pair of towels from him a couple of weeks back-in a cart in the Providencia neighborhood for the past 58 years, on the way to the Metro.

We know which way to turn when we exit the Los Heroes station near the University and when we return at the Manuel Montt stop.

Along the way to constructing these routines, which are still forming as we learn more and more about the specifics of life here in Santiago-unlike in our part of the United States, hummus is not always available, for instance-we have already had a series of extraordinary experiences that are precisely the reason why we wanted to come here.

We have had magical days of conversation and drink and food with inconceivably generous and welcoming colleagues and friends of friends and family.

Dunreith has had the space to immerse herself in a new language.

Together we’ve had the great and good fortune of arriving at a critical moment in the nation´s history as well as to talk with, and learn from, the people who lived through the Pinochet era and emerge on the other side.

Perhaps most fundamentally, we have stepped off what at times felt like a treadmill and moved even more into a life of deliberate choice based both on seeking to orient our lives around our deepest dreams and most basic values and on weaving the various strands of our life into a rich and lush tapestry.

Given all this, it’s impressive to think that all of that has happened within our first 28 days here in Chile.

But, wow, it´s been fast.

The speed strikes me on two levels.

The first is that we spent so much time preparing and anticipating and packing and getting ready for our voyage here that it´s difficult to accept that a certain chunk of that time here is already over.

The second and related part is that, in many ways, our time here in Chile is a metaphor for life itself.

It´s not so much as John Lennon sang, that life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

Rather it´s that, as I move through the latter part of my 40s, the pace of time’s passage feels increasingly pronounced.

The other day I wrote Nick Harrison, a friend from my eighth grade year in Oxford, England in 1978.

At the end of the email I said that it was hard to believe that it had been 35 years since we first met.

I gulped as I wrote the number.

Part of my throat’s movement came from the contrast between the number of years and how recent the memories of attending English and History classes with Nick, being doubles partners in tennis with him, and acting together in Hotel Paradiso feel in my heart.

The other part is from the knowledge that, as fast as these decades have gone, the next one will probably go just as quickly, if not more so.

At that point, Nick and I will be near the end of our lives, if indeed we make it that far.

The lesson, for me, is to live consciously, to spend time and energy with those people and doing those activities that mean the most, even as I move with the humbling knowledge that it is all but certain that what I will value most then will be different than what is most important now.

I also seek to savor each moment, heightened by an awareness of the layers of past experiences and future aspirations that provide the context for the particular experience.

It´s been 12 years since Dunreith and I had our public wedding ceremony and Marty offered me his sage words of advice, and more than three years since he passed.

For us, week four in Chile ends tomorrow.

This present moment, as it always is, is happening right now.


2 responses to “Chilean Chronicles, Part XIX: On Four Weeks in Chile and Time’s Rapid Passage

  1. Wise words. Thank you.

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