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Life of Sorrow

Frieda Kahlo, in a letter to her husband Diego Rivera, testified that he was “by far the worse” of the two disasters that defined her life. The first, remarkably, was the perforation of her uterus in a bus accident at age 18.

Of all the insensitivity of men, Diego epitomized the worst of it. Not only was he extravagantly unfaithful to Frieda, but he failed to appreciate the huge investment of self she made in him. Frieda, in many of her self-portraits, put a bust of Diego on her forehead. The day after her death, a friend observed that he appeared to age ten years, and finally testified that “I never knew how much I loved her.” No, lummox! You never understood the power of her devotion to you!

Diego did care for Frieda, supporting the drain on his finances of more than thirty surgeries related to her accident and spinal bifida. But he eventually divorced her, and this pressed Frieda into depression. Self-portraits of the period show her attempting to reclaim the European mantle carried by her father, where for years she had dressed the part of the Mexican peasant. A few weeks before her death, she penned the line

I hope the end is easy, and I hope never to return.

This strikes deep into my heart. In Golem, I write of a cosmic convocation of masculine minds that lost their women to sorrow. Their ladies take haven in a place that masculine minds cannot penetrate, the super-massive black hole in the center of our galaxy, leaving men without their primary inspiration in the struggle for justice. We need women like Frieda, and any testimony of their abandonment of us is, frankly, terrifying.

I learned the details about Frieda at a seminar presented by Dr. Gloria Arjona. Dr. Arjona is also a singer, and these two passions combined in her investigation, as Spanish Lecturer at Cal Tech, of the fragments that Frieda inscribed on her self-portraits. Most penetrating of them are these words from a Mexican adaptation of Cielito Lindo:

Arbol de la esperanza mantente firme

Tree of hope, be strong

Dr. Arjona spoke of Frieda as representative of the universal human condition, which is the struggle against sorrow and pain. After her presentation, I stopped to take her hand and thank her for “representing Frieda so faithfully.” For Frieda does indeed represent that struggle so universal in Latin America, though foreign to the American middle class. The experience on Saturday was a link for me, as I learned this morning when humming the tune to the chorus of Cielito Lindo

Ay, ay, ay ay. Canta y no llores

“Sing, and do not cry.” It is an assertion of will emanating from those that have nothing but their voices, and even then only in moments of private celebration that are yet always touched by the pressure of sorrow. It is to claim the right to be loved, a claim that almost broke my heart as I began to weep.

I love you. We are strong enough. Come to me.

One thought on “Life of Sorrow

  1. I’m familiar with Frieda Kahlo’s painting, but I didn’t know how sad she was. Just beautiful, your second last paragraph especially.

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