What Is Our Treasure?
In a trip to Italy for the olive harvest, Nancy discovers the truth of Father Carrón's insistence that "all these facts, even if they are small, are the sign of that Presence."
In Fr. Carrón's October School of Community, he says,
Is it possible that facing this dramatic situation, we are giving too much value, we are overestimating the impact of these little signs (the man born blind, a radio program, a friend who helps me see, a young mother met at the park)? No, because all these facts, even if they are small, are the sign of that Presence of which Azurmendi spoke. There is only one explanation for what happened, and that is Christ. This can truly challenge any situation, even the one we and the whole world are now facing.
I can say "yes," this is true in my experience, and there are two of these little signs that I want to share from a recent work trip to Italy to learn about the olive harvest and olive oil milling.
Upon arriving, we started the mandatory quarantine, but also wanted to get a COVID test. The closest one to us was about twenty minutes away and not being able to get in touch over the phone we headed over. We arrived to a tent set up outside with doctors in full PPE (personal protective equipment), with only the eyes visible through goggles. Guido asked if we could get a test and the doctor apologetically said they were already full for that day and did not have any extra tests available.
A line of cars started to form behind us, the doctor went to the next car, and in his place another doctor came to us. Before one word was said, we were struck by her eyes that were full of tenderness. She apologized again that we could not get a test and to our surprise waited for us to write down the name/address/phone of another testing site that we might drive to that day and get tested. The line of cars continued to form, and she patiently and gently repeated to us the name of the testing site and made sure we had all the information. Her eyes never lost that tenderness that I can still see today. We pulled ahead and looked at each other surprised, in wonder, and in silence. We drove to the next testing site and were able to get the test, which came back negative.
The eyes of that doctor told me that there had been much more suffering in Italy than I was aware. Coming from Los Angeles, which never really closed down and currently is not really open, and which never experienced the surge of patients, I was baffled. I asked myself, how is it possible for there to be an overwhelming tenderness in people who have recently suffered so greatly–and there is no bitterness? How did the suffering turn into tenderness instead of bitterness? We were in Tuscany, not even hit that hard by the pandemic, and yet while back in Los Angeles I had seen the news clips of Italians clapping on their balconies for the health care workers and playing beautiful violin pieces. I had to face the facts that this generation of Italians had suffered more than I was aware of, and what was coming out of this suffering was a tenderness, not a bitterness. A solidarity, not a division.
I could not let this fact go, so when we saw some of our friends, I had to ask them: what was it for you being closed in the house for two months? Slowly, one by one, they started to share their experience of dependence, total dependence: how they prayed together daily on zoom--which became the most important moment during the day, a moment they could not miss even for the fatigue--and spoke about their things (house, job, family, etc.) not being theirs but being given to them. In another word, virginity. I saw before my eyes adults living their faith with full responsibility as Father Giussani had wanted, adults who, through the Fraternity of CL, walked together with friends, adults in the faith, to a Destiny that was good.
For the next few days I kept asking, "What was this two months, tell me what happened?" And I kept seeing more and more that our friends were looking at the circumstances contained within the pandemic as given and not as an obstacle to their happiness. Through the circumstances they live a contemporaneity of relationship to Christ. It’s as though the grace of suffering has brought forth the fruit of tenderness, humanity, simplicity, and solidarity, because adults in the faith, following the charism given to Father Giussani, have done a personal work on how they think and feel about the circumstances within the greater relationship with the Father.
I was telling my friend who lives in New York about this and he wondered, "What about for us in the United States, can we have the same experience?"
"Excellent question," I responded. "It's only through freedom we are saved, so let’s see!"
The second experience comes from our work in the olive fields. Guido and I are seriously considering expanding our work at our nonprofit employing people with disabilities to include agriculture, maybe a small olive farm, which can grow well outside of Los Angeles where we live. We have two friends in Italy, both olive farmers, one in Tuscany, and one in Umbria, and we went to visit them again and learn more before
making such a large commitment.
We woke up on the first day of work and arrived to find the field at a pretty steep angle. Our two farmers harvest manually, so we joined in the crew and started pulling the olives off the trees, moving the nets, collecting the olives in cases, and repositioning the nets, and accumulating the cases together as they filled up. It can take anywhere from twenty minutes to forty minutes to get the majority of olives off the tree, and we had a field of eighty trees that day. It was toward the end of the third day, our muscles so sore, we are dirty, arms have been scratched, and the sun is setting. I am secretly happy that soon I will hear the word “ultimo” which means this is the last tree we have to do today. As I am standing in front of a tree that is on a slope, my knee is next to my chest, and my arms are holding up a hand rake to remove the last few violet olives, and I look over at Guido who is the same position on a different tree and the question “But what is our treasure?” comes to my mind.
I breathe, my heart opens, and everything becomes a little bit easier. My body relaxes, and I remember how our friend Elisa told us that Father Giussani told a group of Memores Domini who lived and worked on a farm that through their work they can see in experience that Memory is something that comes out of the work, not something added on. It true!! I now had an energy not of my own and a smile spread across my face. Hearing the word “ultimo” now enters my awareness with a different, new meaning. I cannot wait to share this question which is an experience of Memory with Guido and look at what happened together. When we were all finished for the day, we talked about this question and fact after fact came into our awareness and we started to write them down.
This became a turning point that refocused us and pointed out what was essential. This question helped to win over our interpretations and feelings and to live the circumstances in a better way. We started to write down what we learned each day, and this was a help to capture the moments when Christ’s presence won the reality instead of our feelings.
It came in an unexpected friendship, in how two people stayed together working, sewing nets, in how lunch was prepared for all of us workers with love and care and joy, and even when the cook asked if she should make another pasta! We stopped analyzing how we would do things and instead recognized that Christ was waiting for us before each task assigned that day. We saw ourselves become happier and more at peace in following the daily tasks, including the fatigue and sore muscles, and understood there is something Mysterious in this desire we have to have a small olive farm outside of Los Angeles.
So, what is our treasure? The facts that happen that can challenge any situation, even the one we are living right now.
Nancy, Los Angeles, California