[OP-ED]: Why I failed to become an Engineer..
Well, there were already 2 in my family.
My brother Agustín, Electrical Engineer, and my brother Raúl, who just retired from his noble profession, after a long and meritorious career as a Mechanical Engineer.
At age 16, I wanted to be, if not "somebody", at least somebody else.
Make my life count for something —not like in an act of heroism— but, in a more earthly purpose, to avoid being a blatant redundancy.
Or perhaps, God forbids, a plain-vanilla, mediocre, self-conceited brat.
Maybe by venturing out from the exact numbers world of my 2 male older siblings, and —why not— dive in, immerse myself in the common sense, warm and yet shallow pond of words the Spanish language was offering me at the time, when I couldn’t even honestly have said I have read a full book yet. Books were an expensive luxury, unintended for a middle class South American youngster I was.
Warm, or sticky, sticky and warm, anyway, for me to be a young and lanky flamingo, splashing with my short wings and awkward peak on the words that I barely knew— timid as I was at puberty, more versed in curse words from the streets of Buenos Aires Lunfardo, learned at night listening to clandestine Tango songs I had become addicted to at age 19.
I had vastly neglected, at the same time, the real formal learning of the Spanish language my family was paying for the School of "Social Communication and Journalism" from the JTL University of Bogotá— an aristocratic town founded by Spanish Viceroys where philosophers can curiously become Presidents, journalists can shift professions and become members of the President's cabinet, and also where, like in García Márquez's imaginary city of Macondo, the birds can also aim and shoot, if necessary, at the shotguns— not the other way around. (“los pájaros, allí, le tiran a las escopetas..."). Yes, that surreal.
That is the marvelous place in the America where I was born from a “cansado vientre de Santander,” in that ‘bravía provincia’ of Colombia we could've called Cantabria, instead, this one in the rugged Andes Mountains where I was born, in a country in which the inhabitants of the capital call their beloved city “The Athens of South America”— whatever that means...
I didn’t want to be a “man of letters”, per se, who, like Francisco Laprida, in the famous poem by J.L. Borges, ends up, instead, in a bloody battle field, spear-wounded, faced-up, looking at the open sky, thinking in the last minute of his life, when waiting in the final seconds for his enemies to have mercy on him and finish him off.
“Yo que soñé con ser un hombre de libros y de letras…," he exhales in Borges's terse poem.
Or like Robert Browning, who one day decides of all of sudden to become a Man of Letters, and, as the Argentinian master puts it, he realizes, while reflecting at the moment in an ordinary street in London where the conversion took place, that he has picked one of the most curious professions on earth, (“una de las más curiosas profesiones humanas..."), as Borges writes in his celebrated poem "Robert Browning resuelve ser Poeta.."
… in which the British writer chooses this rather inauspicious destiny, described by his Argentinean admirer as follows:
From now on, “viviré de olvidarme..” (I will live off oblivion..”).
For a moment I thought, like in a final epiphany, after my terrible quandary about what career to follow, that I could be then a Lawyer, instead. No?
A socially ranked profession, even if, like in lawyer-be-come Coronel Laprida’s life, he may end up, not in a courtroom, fighting for his life in a battle of words. But, wearing the blue uniform of a young and educated Army officer, in a real battlefield, perhaps like those handsome who died in Gettysburg, PA, wounded, taking and firing led instead, like many other thousands of other brave and gracious warriors, on his knees sustaining the charge, or already flat on their back, ready to die on the ground, waiting impatiently for final second of life to come by, “as somebody who is waiting for sleep to finally arrive…” (another Borges's line)
Thinking, in the meantime, what a vast paradox life is.
Specially because in his profession, the profession of letters, weather tainted or pure, “las palabras pueden atreverse a fingir la sabiduría” ("words can dare to feign wisdom," according to the Argentinean master of them.)
I personally gave up, at age 18, on being a lawyer and, instead, little by little, I turned out, over the past 40 years, to be a stubborn Publisher, not in the battlefields of New York City, where the Gangs are fearsome, but in the safe and pleasant Philadelphia of fellow Printer and grateful Publisher Benjamin Franklin, 6th President of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and founding Father of the United States of America.
I managed not to become an Engineer, like my brothers, but I was forced instead to do an act of Engineering quite daring: To build from scratch a News Media company, AL DÍA, and create a permanent job for myself in the process, since for a Latino to land a job in Journalism in Philadelphia in the year 1991 was close to impossible.
I can't be any other way Ben Franklin was at the end: Extremely, extremely, GRATEFUL.