In appreciation: Efrain Jara (1926 – 2018)

Apr 22, 2018

My writing assignments often evoke in me a feeling of inadequacy and, at the same time, the recognition of great fortune.  This is not a new sensation, it is a lasting collection of emotions that visit me often and reveal their intentions as I fidget in trepidation prior to writing. It is a state of crisis.

I recall that some years ago there was a lively debate regarding the signature of two Chinese symbols that together, create the word, crisis:  They are “anger” and “opportunity.”

I am excited by what I have to say while fearing words will not come to me, that the muse who invaded me said all he had to say and has moved on to someone else, inhabiting another for a moment.

From my earliest time in Cuenca I have been writing a column for CuencaHighLife. In a few ways it has defined how I am perceived by others and in many ways, it defines how I came to envision myself.  I never expected the glow of introspection would so dominate my time, nor did I consider the timing of it happening. What began as a momentary distraction quickly emerged as an obsession — I felt compelled to quarry language,  to do the yeoman’s work of chiseling away wasteful​ words, exposing the precious jewel of language.​

Writing has become central to my day.

I often describe my column by saying, “I write a love letter to Cuenca every Sunday.”  Enchanting people, watched over by graceful sentries, in a land that always blooms, captures my attention every day. However, even greater awards now come into view — evolving dimensions, and clarity. The complexity of daily living, a nuance of style, and casual conversation now has a patina like copper. I remain mesmerized by the grand gestures and brilliant colors that make Cuenca, yet like the tatting offered by women on the streets of El Centro, it is the knotting of a single thread into grand designs of elegant beauty that defines my vision of Cuenca today.

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Efrain Jara

From my first moment in Ecuador to the moment I write these words, there is a single wellspring I return to again and again to quench an endless thirst, to refresh my spirit and bathe my weary soul.  It is more than fresh water, it is a powerful elixir.  It is the poetry of the great Cuencano, Efrain Jara.

To read Jara is to read a new language. I am driven to understand the depth of his capacity to awaken ancient wisdom, to mentor young adults, to lay bare his rawest emotions while guiding us between the dangerous islands of anger and sadness. I study Spanish to learn his voice. I learn his voice so to more deeply drink from his well.

Spinoza taught us that, “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.” Efrain Jara taught us that excellence exists everywhere, in bird songs that soothe, and in trees, their limbs stretched wide, offering cooling shade.

He taught us that living an exemplary life is also composed of brushing your teeth in the morning, feeding the cat, and taking out the trash on time.

He taught that devotion to service, love of country, and exercising intellectual discipline to achieve higher plateaus of knowledge is elemental.

What a brave man he was.

Efrain Jara at work in the 1990s. (Photo on display in the Pumpungo Museum)

We are not built to outlive our children and many cannot withstand the loss when it happens. How heroic Efrain was to shed his skin, to strip all protection away, to take our hand and safely guide us through grief so deep it became dry nodes of eternity, and agony so intense that it screeched like a flock of seagulls.

The ode to his deceased son is often distilled into a single word, it is a sound dripping in his poem, an uncommon sound that lives in the darkest bass tones beyond crying and grief. It is a Sob. It is drenching saltwater. The weight of collapse. Abject despair. It is trembling at the entrance to a cloud so black as to absorb sunlight, a tunnel so steep light never dares enter, but enter it you do, wishing that this moment cannot be. But it is. And enter into darkness you must, and become darkness you do. And these are times when we fear for you and can barely follow your words, your trail of tears. But, you lead us through. We follow you because we trust your guidance. We can hear your voice, laden deep and guttural.

Sobbing.

Efrain Jara experienced a loss so profound it can become a crushing wave that crumples and drowns. Yet, he chose to share with us his pain and suffering so that we may learn and gain strength in our own lives.

How heroic.

As I read his biography, I am held in awe of his many accomplishments and applaud the many rewards laid before him in appreciation of a lifetime of devotion to his community. When I read of his passing, I was deeply moved.

I recently read that Ecuador’s National Assembly, in recognition of his contribution to the literature of Ecuador, is poised to make, “A posthumous tribute and award the Prize to Cultural Merit Vicente Rocafuerte, by his great legacy and contribution to culture, especially to national and universal letters and poetry.”

I am gratified to read that the highest honors and recognition due Señior Jara are forthcoming for he is certainly due to stand among the finest artists in Ecuador’s history. He transformed the face of poetry in Ecuador and the lives of countless Ecuadorians.

But, I am even more thankful that I am learning Spanish by reading his work.

He is teaching me more than the language of Ecuador. He is teaching me what it means to be an Ecuadorian.

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