I popped into church today. Just stopped in, as I’ve often done over the past five years. I’m not catholic, but I like to sit and look at the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Basilica de la Merced in downtown Santiago.
It’s cool and peaceful inside, painted to resemble pink marble. There’s a center aisle and the pews are lined up on either side, in two sections. before and after the hanging pulpit.
Behind the altar, a statue of the Virgin Mary is set into a niche with a royal blue background. She’s wearing a flowing, white cape and a silver crown.
I read somewhere that she protects the innocent by bringing them close and covering them with her cape. I love that idea.
The basilica always smells of floor polish and candle wax. The first three years that I lived in Chile, there was a caretaker who, every time I went in, was polishing the wooden floor with a buffing machine.
Though it’s still shiny, I never catch him polishing the floor any more, but I still see him from time to time. He recognizes me and greets me cordially.
At noon, on weekdays, the church chimes ring out, just after the cañonazo, the firing of the cannon at Cerro Santa Lucia.
For five years, at straight-up twelve o’clock, I heard “Boom!” And then, the sweet notes of a recognizable song. I don’t know the title, but like an old friend, it became familiar to me over time. I will miss it.
I arrived back in Santiago on April 1. My goal was to turn myself into a global nomad and visit several places every year, spending a few months in each one. Everything was falling into place. Things were happening so fast that I felt like Wile E. Coyote in the old cartoons, left spinning around, like a top, after the roadrunner whizzed by.
Nostalgia kicked in. And sadness, a sort of grief. I started missing Santiago, even though I’m still here. I started thinking of all the places I’d meant to visit, all the things that I didn’t get around to doing since I’ve been here. Wishing I had more time. Wishing I weren’t leaving. Wondering if I were doing the right thing, wondering where I’m going next, wondering whether I’ll ever be back.
I found an apart-hotel and got halfway moved in, expecting to be in Santiago until my usual “can’t-stand-the-heat” date of mid-September. Then, I would go back to the US to sort out some business and to spend time with my son and his fiancée, before heading out again to Parts Unknown.
When my son died unexpectedly on May 4, another kind of grief began. Deep, heavy waves of shock and sadness and guilt that left me with almost no energy to continue doing what I needed to do. To finish moving out, packing up, and getting myself back to the States for an indefinite period of time.
Sooner now than I had expected. Not to see my son. The best I’ll be able to do is memorialize him. His fiancée and I will be getting to know each other without him, and I will be a “repat,” at least for awhile.
My suitcases are already bulging, but I’d like to take back a small replica of this Virgin Mary, Virgen de la Merced, in the hope that she’d bring me as much comfort from afar as she has here, in the church that’s named after her.