This post is one I’d hoped never to write, but considering that so many of my family and friends came to know Sean Joseph Clancy as a result of our friendship, and because he was such an extraordinary person who charmed all of them, and finally because we could not attend his memorial Mass in Ireland today, I want to at least offer his family my heartfelt condolences, and share a little about the Sean I knew. Not very long ago, he sent me a copy of an article he had written for Socialist Voice, and I’ve included a link to it at the bottom for those who are interested in knowing a little more about him.
Sean passed away a week ago, rather unexpectedly. I knew he wasn’t feeling well, I just didn’t understand the urgency and I’m sure, neither did he. Let me at least say this, even if no other good comes from this painful event: if someone you love complains of dizziness and a general state of illness, run, don’t walk, and try to drag them to the doctor. If they still refuse, then you’ll at least know you’d done everything possible to help them – a comfort I lack at the moment.
Sean first came to Cuba around the time many foreigners began to discover Cuba for the first time. It has only recently become chic, but in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was anything but. Think tanks were writing nothing about it, much less the media, unless it was to say something disparaging. “Cuba experts” were not a dime a dozen as they are now (nor as woefully uninformed). Coming here was a daring choice, especially for someone so indoctrinated against the country, as Sean once told me had been at the start. Basically, he did a 180.
Trinidad, where he settled, was back then a sleepy small town with a certain amount of colonial charm, but not much else. As the town was transformed over the years into a tourist trap, he came to hate it, and dreamed of escape. But he had a young child there, who he loved so fully and deeply that leaving was impossible – although leave he eventually did, in the worst possible way.
I truly believe Sean did not mean to die, even though he was so wearied by so many things, not least, a difficult divorce that had evolved into a constant unnecessary struggle to enforce his shared rights to custody, and keep Fidelito close to him in Cuba until he was old enough to make his own decision about where to be. His situation was not unlike that of Elian Gonzalez’s father. Justice was on his side and he’d won some significant court victories, no small feat for a foreigner in a country not his own. I never knew him to be anything but the most loving and dedicated father and this makes his loss a doubly terrible thing to contemplate.
Che Guevara once said that true revolutionaries are guided by tremendous feelings of love. He also said that his spiritual heirs tremble at the thought of injustice, anywhere in the world. Both of those characteristics, Sean had in spades. He was tireless in his efforts to tell the world about the injustices visited upon the Cuban Five in their US trial and incarceration, and relentlessly determined in his efforts to help bring them home. Many visitors of all different political persuasions found shelter in his home, which served that double purpose: a sanctuary where he educated his guests about those kinds of injustices and I’m sure, converted plenty to joining the fight to rectify them. Once the Five arrived home, he did not stop. He moved swiftly and seamlessly on to the fight to bring Oscar Lopez home to Puerto Rico, and advocate for an early release of Ana Belen Montes.
We were our own book club of two – we shared books back and forth, and it was one of Sean’s books that taught me Ireland’s real, devastating history and helped me understand that Ireland’s struggle is Puerto Rico’s struggle, is Cuba’s struggle, is the struggle of all countries fighting for sovereignty and self-determination.
With people who disagreed or simply asked his opinion, either provocatively or ingenuously, he had an unusual gift for presenting an alternative view or explaining the often forgotten history of events, calmly, sincerely, and therefore convincingly. He was a brilliant autodidact and I often envied his ability to speak so well on his feet. In my post just prior to this one, he responded as the devil’s diplomatic advocate, and I will always miss that.
Sean was an example of love abounding – always quick and generous with his time and resources, even when they were limited. He was the kindest and most reliable of fishing companions for my son, who also adored him. His first expression when I told him the news was his heartbreak for Fidelito.
Here, when someone beloved and well known dies, their passing is often referred to as their “physical disappearance,” indicating that even though they are no longer physically here, they live on in our hearts and minds, missed but never forgotten. I want to honor him that same way, and I know that there are so many people – both those who simply had the good fortune to briefly cross his path, and those of us who knew him well and loved him deeply – who feel exactly the same.
Sean Joseph Clancy, Presente!
Continuation of the revolutionary process – by Sean Joseph Clancy