The Recovery of My Humanity
by Giorgio Vittadini
"The Mystery comes to me through the vital and contradictory unfolding of reality."
These are days, those spent at home because of the pandemic, that are truly disturbing. I have stopped trying to quiet the anxiety, the pain and the worry, clinging on to some sort of “having to be,” like the “having” to look at things positively, to take advantage of this opportunity to change, to learn, to improve myself. Even the “having” to find the Lord. I really feel myself to be a son of Father Giussani, and for me there is no other way to be a Christian except by starting from the human. So yes, all of this disturbs me, so much suffering, so much fear, and the overwhelming uncertainty that I breathe every day. I decided above all to live simply trying to have my feet firmly planted in the present. Every day, I slip into “jail mode,” instead of “cloister mode.”
There was a moment when I thought I was becoming an atheist, because at a certain point the prayer that I found in the breviary or in the Mass started to suffocate me. One day, after the umpteenth hour spent recording lessons for my students (something that is not at all trivial even after forty years of teaching in the university, because I have to do it in front of a camera and every time I mess up I have to start over from the beginning), I realized that my prayer was precisely my being present, fulfilling the work that I have to do. How did I manage to understand this? Because there was within this work a new desire: the desire to be something more, to be through and through the person God called me to be. The channels of communication with the Lord were then set ablaze.
In this moment, I have decided first of all to stay on track: not to abandon the tasks to which I am called, but to seek a different, deeper awareness. Beyond recording my lessons, I am responding to the questions of my students on the forum, talking with them face to face on Webex, and continuing to move forward with the cultural projects in which I’m engaged, all of this as part of the vocation to which I was called forty years ago. There is not a religious part of my life and another part that is “civil”: life is all one thing that asks me to be present.
The call to silence continues to amaze me, as a way of looking at myself and at the Mystery. I know so many people for whom this is really a useful vehicle. I am made differently: the Mystery comes to me through the vital and contradictory unfolding of reality, while silence is only the space, the moment when I gain the distance necessary to see everything, a little more as a man, a little more in company with a God, as the Pope said, who is infected like me, but infected with mercy.
In these days, I’ve realized that for me silence means listening to what has happened: people, things to do, problems that need solving. It allows me to listen to someone, so that these days do not become “bulimic,” full of things to do, of relationships to keep up obsessively through video calls from every which way. My life is very full, also because I fill it up, but I don’t care about making it different, because that’s how I am. I am interested only in being able to recognize what is there, and that it is there for me. Here is what—I think—can change me. And it is difficult to accept this change; in fact I alternate between the temptation to follow the thoughts of others like a sheep, or else to think that I already know. Nothing protects me from the need to find my path, my words, my experience, my preferences, both with respect to the history to which I belong and with respect to the history of the world.
The other fundamental experience I am having in these days has to do with friendship: I am seeing that this distance kills the small fires and makes the big fires explode (and technology is an excellent help in this verification). In this sense, I have been really amazed by the readiness of people to give their life, their time, their money for those in need, in so many environments, from schools to hospitals to the world of work. What kind of companionship can give life to these people? I feel that I am their friend. And I find myself “chomping at the bit” because I would like to be there and give a hand, to help those who suffer, and to support those who fight and face this tragedy however they can. Yes, tragedy. I don’t want to sugarcoat anything: for many, so many, what they are living is a health tragedy that seriously risks becoming an economic tragedy.
Therefore, I don’t think I have ever understood so well the value of that thing that I have dealt with for so many years: the culture of subsidiarity. In my often-adolescent search for contrasting opinions, I would like to feel even more the urge to know, to understand, and to deepen what is happening on the human, healthcare, economic, and social levels.
My commitment to the works in which I am involved, first of all the Foundation for Subsidiarity and ilsussidiario.net, but also the Meeting of Rimini and other cultural initiatives, has become for me, even more clearly, an opportunity not to lessen my desire to build and to imagine “from below,” in a subsidiary way, how to collaborate in the construction of a new common good, returning to those places where we can continually learn from each other. I am hoping for the recovery of a truly human experience, like the experience of those who built the foundations of the Italian Republic, discovering the existential and personal significance of the other, however different, as a resource. The construction of this common good, in a participative and parliamentary democracy, is not a moral encouragement, but something more true that these difficult days are showing us. And they will be decisive also for finding the best solutions going forward.
Giorgio Vittadini is Professor of Statistics at the University of Milan Bicocca, president of the Foundation for Subsidiarity, and one of the organizers of the Meeting of Rimini.
Editor's note: This article appears in the May 1, 2020, issue of the Italian edition of Traces.