Miami’s Cuban community is abuzz. Fidel Castro recently emerged after nine months of seclusion to attend the opening of an art gallery in Havana. The 87-year-old Castro was stooped and leaned heavily on a cane. His hair and beard were wispy. His eyes and face seemed hollow.
Those who do not live in South Florida probably cannot realize the hatred and fear the mere mention of Fidel generates. The Cuban despot had been the absolute ruler of the island for almost 50 years when he turned control over to his brother Raul in 2006. Fidel had undergone major surgery and was unable to continue his reign.
Fidel Castro had always seemed larger than life. He was boisterous and bombastic. His speeches went on for hours. He ranted and raved. He met any form of dissent with an iron fist. Firing squads were common. Blood ran in the streets. His ruthless regime seemed to go on forever.
It is quite compelling to see Fidel Castro stripped of his famous military-style fatigues, his jaunty cigar, his henchmen, his troops, his illusions of power. He seemed so formidable, so commanding, but now he is just a sick old man, bent and frail.
The Yizkor prayer offers a sobering account of the human condition: “Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow. In the morning it blossoms and is rejuvenated, by evening it is cut down and brittle.”
Human beings are the only creatures to understand that their condition on this earth is terminal. The revelation is heavy. Some of us use this knowledge as an excuse to eat, drink and be merry. Others use it to realize how precious life really is. Aging and death cannot be avoided. No one, not even Fidel Castro, will be spared.
Hopefully, the awareness of our limited time will be used for the good. It is difficult to actually live each day as if it were our last. It requires an intensity that is hard to sustain. Better yet would be a philosophy of not wasting or killing time but using that time well.
It is shocking to see a mighty icon in such a dramatic state of decline, but no one is larger than life and no one will go on forever. Fidel’s horrific legacy is already set. What will your legacy be?