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Finding Oneself. “In Search for Epifano” by Anaya Essay

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Updated: Oct 4th, 2021

When one is nearing the end of his earthly existence, there is a tendency for him to reminisce and weigh the life he has led – whether he has lived life to the fullest or not; whether he has lived that life just for himself or for others or both; whether he has found satisfaction in someone or something that has given meaning to his days.

When such a person realizes that he has not reached his life goals and that there is not much time left, he decides to do something about the problem. Despite aches and pains and other constraints, he sets about doing what he has to do. But it is not an easy task, for life is a desert and before one is able to journey through it and find his own Epiphany, he will have to undergo many difficulties similar to those one encounters while traveling the desert.

Epifano or Epifanio is a common name in Spanish. Epifano in the story is the protagonist’s great-grandfather who has long since passed away. The name is derived from the Epiphany which is a feast day among Roman Catholics, celebrating the manifestation of Christ to the Wise Men of the East… the Magi’s quest for the Christ-child like that of the protagonist was fraught with a great deal of hardship.

“In Search of Epifano” is the story of an old woman, almost eighty years of age who finds herself in the aforementioned predicament. She is old, weak, and in ill health. She suffers physical discomforts associated with her liver or her spleen – she doesn’t know exactly what. Apparently, she herself drives the jeep she travels in; however, the vehicle does not prove to be travel-worthy. Traveling long distances in any desert is dangerous, but even the idea of crossing a vast desert is both life-threatening and overwhelming especially when one’s means of transportation is not sturdy enough. This is the first sacrifice the old woman goes through, but she is not cowed by the threat.

Still another drawback is her lack of a guide. She could get lost and there would be no one at all to witness her fate. She has reached an age where she is not afraid of death. She has heard whispers about this great grandfather, Epifano – about his establishing a great ranch in the desert. The family albums contained a picture of him, but the mental picture of this ancestor of hers is that which guides her through her doubt. She can hear her voice – the voice of the Mexican heritage which only she among the members of the family remembers. This is a sign that she banks more on the spiritual ties between her and her ancestor rather than on the actuality of his picture in the family album.

The old woman travels both forward and backward. She goes forward in crossing the desert of Chihuahua; but she goes backward, too, in time. She becomes increasingly thirsty – a physical need. On the other hand, she also experiences a spiritual thirst – a thirst for life. She reflects on how many of her desires were never satisfied. She happens to be an artist and she figures that the only evidence of her time on earth are her sketches and her paintings. By dwelling on these thoughts she knows she is trying her best to give meaning to her life.

She also recalls having married a man of ambition. This was when she was young and in love with the idea of being in love. After a long time, she realized that it was not loved for he lacked desire and passion, and being an artist, this was what ruled her inner self and hence he could not fulfill her needs. In short, they were incompatible.

The old woman remembered with a strange satisfaction an incident that occurred on her wedding day when an Indian entered the chapel and stood in the back. She turned around and spied him before he vanished. She wondered later whether he was real or imagined. He had the features of a Tarahumara. She believed he was a messenger from Epifano warning her that her marriage would turn out to be an unhappy union. Or could it not have been Grandfather Epifano himself wanting to witness his great grandchild’s wedding? At any rate, this incident could be a symbol of the close ties existing between ancestor and descendant which persist beyond the grave. Her union with an unfeeling man produced a daughter and a son. In the desert of the old woman’s life, their presence in her life gave as little satisfaction as a mirage that promises water but is just a dream that gives no satisfaction.

“In the solitude of the desert, she is “overwhelmed by the magnitude of nature. She thinks she is only a moving shadow that crosses a vast, dusty hot land. She is dwarfed by the Canon de Cobre, this ancestral land of the mystical Tarahumara Indians as she drives along its northern rim. As vultures circle overhead she is flooded with memories of her marriage.” (Anaya).

The vastness that overwhelms her is both horizontal as well as vertical-horizontal because of the width of the land surrounding her and vertical as suggested by the vultures circling overhead. Vultures have always been regarded as harbingers of death. In actuality, vultures have been known to feed on carrion. Perhaps this could be a symbol of death fast approaching the old woman. If this is true for her, during these last moments, she recalls her luckless marriage which turns out to be a complete disaster and which fills her soul with emptiness and aridity akin to that of the desert itself.

In the past, to fill the void in her existence, she painted, took classes, and traveled, but in the end, left her husband. In the emptiness of her marriage, she turned to her dreams for solace. When at last she reached her destination, she quenched her thirst and thanks to the gods for the water. She scans over the vestiges of Epifano’s property, observing the desert. She is over the completion of her journey without any definite answers to her many questions. This is a state wherein her physical thirst is quenched whereas her spiritual thirst remains.

Rapt in contemplation, an Indian appears among the plants in the desert. It is great grandfather Epifano himself. She recognizes kind, deep blue eyes. Whereupon a crowd of Indian women emerge from the desert and form a circle around her. Finally, she is engulfed in light, love, and life. This time, her experience is not physical; it is something spiritual. Her journey has become worthwhile. It has provided her with direct links to her Mexican ancestry and has rendered her existence more meaningful.

For the Tarahumara, this is how death is: It is one glorious experience far from being sad. One is not alone but surrounded by other loving souls. One does not enter into darkness, but light. Best of all, one is reunited with kindred souls in an atmosphere replete with joy.

This is the old woman’s last journey. She has finally established meaning for a life well-lived for others, not just for oneself. She lived unselfishly for an unfeeling husband till she could no longer endure it, also for her children aloof to their Indian heritage. As an artist, her sketches and paintings must have given contentment and satisfaction to viewers. For this protagonist, meaning and fulfillment have been found in the remote world of her Tarahumara Indian ancestry.

A beautiful description of “death” to the Tarahumara native is expressed in the following lines:

“At the story’s end, she is enveloped by light and encircled by ghostly figures including that of her great grandfather Epifano. Her despair is replaced by joy and satisfaction that she has never known before. The blinding flash of light pierces her like an arrow from the bow of an Indian” (Anaya).

This description represents the supreme moment – Death -a moment when she is complete. She feels no pain and experiences no fear. The old woman has returned to wed her ancient past and in so doing satisfies her quest.

In the beginning, she is dressed in white – the color of desire not consummated. Perhaps at the supreme moment just described, she is bathed in the colors of the rainbow – of Bliss. There are other symbols such as the journey through the lonesome and harsh desert which could mean going through life in the cruel world. The search for one’s ancestors could mean delving into history or “listening to whispers about them”. Proof of the old woman’s death is that if the old woman did come face to face with her ancestor, it is possible and very probable that she has passed through the valley of death. Then of course there is the metaphor of the blinding light that marks her passage into another dimension – a world devoid of sadness and despair.

The author, Rudolfo A. Anaya was born in Pastura, New Mexico on October 30, 1937. His style is indirect, making use of symbols and clues. He maneuvers the story in such a way as to enable the reader to join the central character in her quest for meaning. The story’s conclusion is open-ended. One may therefore assume that the protagonist has come to the end of her journey and has truly “come home”. Based on the story, it may also be inferred that one’s quest for fulfillment in life may be rendered less difficult if one is armed with the strength, patience, faith, and courage – virtues that the heroine of the story possessed.

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