Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The meaning of tenderness

Father Giussani and Enzo Piccinini

During the summer of 2006, my family and I participated in the CL summer vacation for the Varese (Italy) community that took place in the Dolomites (San Martino di Castrozza). During those very rich days, we heard a talk given by a priest whose name escapes me and who was introduced as the spiritual director for Memores Domini in Italy (or something -- I don't speak Italian! -- can anyone help me with this detail?). In any case, the theme of his talk was "complaining" ("lamentare" -- which my Italian English teacher friend kept translating into my ear as "moaning" -- luckily I know British English and I know that this word is used as we would use "complaining" in America). In any case, the very strong theme of his talk was that "lamentare" is a form of violence, the worst kind of violence -- an "ugly" violence ("brutto" means ugly, not "brutal," right?). In fact, when asked what one can do in front of a person who complains, he said that we should face the person, and with every fiber of our being, we should shout, "Lazarus, come out!" Then, while reading this beautiful post, "childlike yes, but like a weaned child," over on Deep Furrows, I was struck by how Freder1ck characterizes something that the surgeon, Enzo Piccinini, said: "...to complain is to vomit on others." I wrote to ask him for the context and exact quote for this remark, and he sent me the following:

from "The Otherworldly Present in this World," booklet, Traces 2000 #6, by EnzoPincinini:
There are three constant dimensions in the approach to pain and sacrifice:

a. Memory - the greatest Christian word I know - that makes present
something that happened long ago. In his daughter [Emmanuel Mounier's
daughter, Francoise with micro-encephalitis], in the circumstance that
everyone considered to be misfortune, a sign emerged that forced one
to think of the present Mystery of Christ.

This is memory. May this start to become normal among us, may it be a
sign that forces us to think of the Mystery of Christ as present! It
is not courage that makes me say this. It is the demand for a human
experience that can be considered such, because this is my life's most
absolute necessity.

b. This memory immediately becomes an offering, and here is
where the greatness lies. You cannot live something "absurd," in the
measure in which it seems absurd, if you cannot offer it.

Offering means: I understand that there is something which does not
depend on me in this world just as in my life, and so even what I do
not understand now I can live, while I wait to understand it.

Memory immediately becomes offering, that is, participation in the
cross of Christ, participation in the usefulness itself of the the
cross of Christ for the salvation of the world, so that life may no
longer be in vain.

What is the alternative to this? What happens to me every morning when
I punch my time card: "How are things?" "Don't ask, for goodness
sake..." This is how the day starts. Then you finish and go to punch
your time card: "Hi, how did it go?" "Don't ask, the usual problems."
And it is always like this!

The alternative, to the degree to which certainty and letting go are
missing, is complaining. But it is not the complaints that break the
heart of a suffering child, it is the complaints that burden the heart
and ears of those listening, which render life difficult for those
around us, and our life becomes a sentence also for others, a life-
lament that does not know happiness, and even less, joy.

c. But whoever sets up his life as lamentation does not know the grand
thing that makes man great: tenderness. The man who complains
does not know tenderness, but vomits onto others what he has inside
him. In his relationships he lacks tenderness, he can fall in love as
much as he likes, but tenderness is lacking; there is a thrill that
seems like tenderness, but it is not, and this is demonstrated by the
fact that first of all it is temporary, and then that it is selfish,
egocentric.

Tenderness is a sensitivity to the joy of others, and it exists only
in those who support, accept, and are as a child before Christ, like
the Apostles.

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."