Truth Witnessed in Experience
Returning home and in the midst of difficulty, Amanda reflects on her experience of working as a volunteer coordinator for the New York Encounter
This is what happens when you leave your mother unattended for two hours: she starts talking to Paolo Caimi about how her daughter likes creating checklists and Excel spreadsheets. Apparently, Paolo likes people who make checklists and Excel spreadsheets. That’s why, after this innocent conversation, I ended up coordinating volunteers with this man.
I didn’t know what I was signing up for… I mean, these people are insane. And yet, somehow, we managed to not burn down the Metropolitan Pavilion in the midst of a pandemic. I think this is the greatest miracle.
But I don’t regret it.
In front of the gazes of these friends and others I felt a great freedom. Throughout the Encounter I was “generated” by their gazes. I was free because they helped me to look at myself with greater affection and awe. With them, I could be more myself, unashamed. I was worth loving. Within this companionship I became clearly aware that I, as I am, belong to a People and that we are witnessing to Something greater than all of us. We were truly building “the work of Another”. That’s why I could say “the Spirit is at work here” because I could walk unafraid, certain that I was going to be provided for in every instant, certain that I was being looked after.
In the “aftermath” of the Encounter, as a friend and I were walking to mass on Monday morning I told him: “I don’t want to leave. I want to stay, because of how free and loved I feel with these people. Going back home would be like going back to a cage.” However, when I thought about it, what did I mean by “staying”? Staying where? Staying in New York? No. I hate New York. Staying at the Encounter? Maybe, but the Encounter was a “moment”, a moment that had already passed. Finite. Gone.
How, then, was it possible for me to continue living every instant of my life in the same way I lived at the Encounter? Where did this freedom, this trust in the Mystery, and love of self and for these people come from? Was it from the “moment” or my friends? If a man like Takashi Nagai could affirm from his sickbed that he was happy and that he had the heart of a child, then shouldn’t I be able to live like this every instant, regardless of my circumstances? If the Presence of the Mystery was true at that moment, then shouldn’t it still be true within the walls of my home?
“…a thorn in my flesh was given to me…” (2 Cor, 7)
Two weeks after the Encounter, when everything was going well, I had a horrifying panic attack, followed by a depressive episode that lasted a couple of days. I could say that I’ve been carrying these “two” thorns for some time already. After those events, I most certainly did not feel free. I felt at the mercy of my erratic moods and feelings of hopelessness and desperation. However, within this darkness, I had the deep, unshakable conviction that life was still worth living, it’s full of promise, and that I’m loved, worthy, and preferred. I’m able to affirm this precisely because of moments, such as the Encounter, and this friendship that help me remember this. Stating the contrary would be betraying my own experience. Perhaps this was the freedom Takashi spoke about on his sickbed. It wasn’t a freedom that came out a feeling, but a freedom that springs from the deep, unshakable, immutable conviction of a Truth you have witnessed in your experience.
Amanda, Puerto Rico