|01-01-2008 - Traces, n. 1
Testimonies University students
Beginning Again as Protagonists in America
Two Italian university students at Ohio State and Harvard write to their friends. In the midst of their toil and objections, they have discovered a change
in this issue, we continue our series about the life of CL communities at American universities. In the last issue of Traces, we covered the Notre Dame CLU community, a factor of newness for the entire university, and here we offer excerpts from the letters of Italian CL students at Harvard and Ohio State, where encounters and circumstances have become occasions for change and opportunities for beginning anew.
“Starting right now”
Here in America, extraordinary things keep happening–just when I think that reality has nothing more to tell me, when I feel I’ve fallen into life’s routine.
This week was truly difficult, because I began writing my thesis, all day long in front of the computer to eke out a few pages written in English that, unfortunately, still isn’t very good. Every morning, I would get up feeling increasingly crushed by the weight of this thing and I thought, “The beautiful moments of the beginning of this experience have already ended!”
On Friday, there was School of Community and, before going, I was even thinking that it, too, had become kind of routine. Mike Eppler, responsible for the Movement in the Midwest, came to pick us up.
He’s a fantastic guy. He came for us in his pick-up truck, as long as two economy cars, laughing that open laugh so typical of people from around here. We got in the truck and, after the civilities, got straight down to business: we have to start a School of Community in Columbus. I told him that I would be very happy to do it, but my English isn’t “ready,” yet he answered that my experience and humanity are ready–just like that, without doubting or wavering a second, as if he’d known me for years.
We continued the discussion after School of Community, in the hour-and-a-half drive between Dayton and Columbus. Toward the end of the trip, I said, “I had never left Italy before coming here, and this evening I’m talking with you, a 40-year-old American, who speaks another language and whom I met just three hours ago… and we’re not talking about fluff; we’re talking about our life, our experience.” He turned toward me and said, “This is incredible! It’s the proof that the One who sent you is the same One who sent me!”
And it didn’t end there! He insisted on meeting my host family, so we organized a dinner at a restaurant. He showed up at 7 pm and I was still showering. When I came down, he was sitting there on the couch, talking and laughing with the entire family around him, everybody taken by his presence! First, he asked Barbara (the mother), and then he asked Tim to play Chopin for him on the piano. Tim was playing and Mike was standing still beside him, his eyes closed. When the piece ended, he opened his eyes and thanked Tim, saying, “I love beauty!” When it was time to head out for the restaurant, I got into his car and he said, “You’ve got to begin doing School of Community here. Everything’s ready; everything’s perfect.” I answered, “You’re right, but every time I think about it, it seems I’m not up to it.” He said, “It’s not a question of being capable; it’s a question of being a protagonist.” There were twelve of us at the restaurant, and when we finished eating we began singing spirituals together in the middle of the restaurant. When we left, Mike said, “Guys, the Columbus CL community was born tonight with you–here, now, in this place, in front of this Italian restaurant!” And, incredibly, we all nodded; it was so clear to all of us! When it was time to say goodbye, Mike hugged me and said in my ear, “Starting right now.” That evening, Christ took on a human face for me. We went to the girls’ house to sing while Tim played the piano. We were all so happy about the evening; only a blind person wouldn’t have seen that something was beginning to change.
This period has not only been extremely full of work, but also full of great changes. I want to tell you about how being a Christian in this context is truly beautiful.
From the intellectual point of view, the premise in all my classes is the abolition of the value of authority and tradition–how can you be a free thinker and at the same time follow someone? From the political and cultural point of view, the response offered is an evident contradiction: the “power” of free thought, seeking legitimization, can’t help but rest on other authorities, and end up proposing itself as the absolute veritas (among my colleagues, it’s hard to uproot this equation: “It’s true because Harvard said so!”). From the human point of view, the most shocking thing is the separation between the human and the intellectual; that is, the systematic elimination from our studies of the questions about meaning (while I was re-reading Leopardi’s Night Song, I realized that for many of my classmates this was the first time they’d heard the question, “Who am I?”), the programmed abolition of any religious discourse, and, finally, the sharp division between “what you are in life” and “what you are and think as an intellectual.”
In the face of all this, I, too, got lost, with my prideful desire to do everything on my own, with my expectation to fix everything immediately, and in my initial physiological disorientation. But a friend gave me a good kick in the pants and got me back on the road.
To be honest, things around me haven’t changed over the past few weeks, but the position from which I look at things has; what’s changed is the gaze with which I observe, and this has made and continues to make everything truly new.
My study schedule is jam-packed, but I’ve begun praying Lauds, preparing School of Community better, and going to Mass. There’s not much else to say, just that I’m surrounded with more breathing space than before.
I don’t know why, but with Jen, my friends, my colleagues, and in School of Community, the center is no longer what I think; it’s life, love for my studies, and the waiting for our wedding. In a word, what exists. This is how I see myself changed, and not through my own merit, but through pure grace, and thanks to some friends whom the Lord has put on my road. In short, a new beginning–in this place, which, with time, I’m beginning to love!