The True Revolution
Maria Teresa felt trapped in her "white privilege." Then, a "fortuitous circumstance" suggested a way forward.
Several months ago (pre-Covid), I was in Mozambique for work, and I visited a poor slum. I was horrified by the conditions of the approximately 25,000 people living there and discussed the possible causes of that situation over and over with my colleagues. In my long flight back to the U.S., I noticed that in the Business Class there were all whites (including me), while most of the passengers, and all the blacks, were in the Economy Class. I felt uneasy about this disparity and yet I didn’t want to renounce my seat. Then, during the night, while everybody was sleeping, I saw a black man from Economy coming into the Business Class to go to the bathroom. My first thought was “What is he doing? Does he not know that these bathrooms are only for the Business Class?” Then, suddenly, I realized: here I am, recreating the slum in this airplane!
This very painful realization of my own evil, my utter selfishness, accompanies me often. And it was there again the other day when I was walking in my rich white neighborhood, tired of all the discussions on the protests and thinking that there is no way I can really comprehend what a black man can experience in this country. And, differently from my usual way, I didn’t even have the urge to “do something.” I was just sad. Very sad. But not for them, for me. I could not even look at them; the point was still me. Sad me, useless me, incapable me…still me. And all the thoughts about Christ could not really move me from that position.
Then, due to a series of “fortuitous circumstances,” I heard a couple of minutes of a talk that Enzo Piccinini gave to the CLU students some years ago, and my heart leaped. Suddenly, all my desire was kindled again, the desire that this poverty of mine and this injustice of the society are not the last word, that there is another possibility. And I desired to see people like him with whom I could stay so that my heart could keep burning.
I ran home and read “From Utopia to Presence,” the speech that Don Giussani gave in 1976 in which he judged the position the Movement had in the years surrounding the 1968 protests. I had planned to read it again to be helped to judge the current situation, but I had forgotten its power. I was bowled over! “A presence is original when it bursts from the awareness of our own identity and affection to it. And our identity is to be one with Christ.” My identity, my poor I, is not poor: it is one with Christ! This is my real identity. And through this, I am truly one with everybody, from those in my house to the last black person in the U.S. or Mozambique.
I don’t claim to understand everything that is happening, but I don’t want to miss one instant of what is in front of me.
I learned a few things:
1) The method for a reawakening is always through an encounter, something that comes from outside (in my case, a recording of Piccinini and the words of Father Giussani) and the simplicity of following, of giving in to its attraction.
2) The greatest grace, for me and for the world, is to find a truly free person or persons who risk their own desire, somebody to whom we can “attach” ourselves to be fully ourselves.
3) We have the choice to believe, to bet that a small historical fact can be enough to deal with big, huge things. That if a small event, like listening to an old recording of Piccinini, could reawaken my heart, a small event could change history through many reawakened hearts. Little things that nobody notices can have a profound impact on the world and history--like the simple "yes" of the Virgin Mary. In the School of Community, Don Gius says: “The yes [of Simon to Jesus] is the beginning of a moral road, that either opens with that yes or does not open at all.”
The only possibility for a change in me and the world, the only true revolution is the "yes" to what happened to us, which is revealed in our companionship. Not my plans, not my strategies to be better next time I fly to Mozambique, but a yes to what is given. A yes to my own being--the gift I am. To be present to the present.
Maria Teresa, Rockville, Maryland