Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Swimming Laps and a Self in Search of Mystery

My goal this summer is to swim a full mile, the way I regularly did as a child on swim team. Yesterday afternoon, I made it halfway there. While the swimming is important to my physical health, I know that accomplishing this goal will not fulfill me.

That is because we humans are made for the Mystery and our longings are inexhaustible. Have you ever accomplished something really big and felt a sense of sadness? When I finished my first year of teaching in June, I felt sad to say goodbye to my students and I thought about ways in which I could make this coming school year even better. This is how we were made. We were created, are being created, not to have a sense of fulfillment, but to have longing. That longing, I believe, is Christ calling to us and nothing, nothing can extinguish it.

We talked about this longing last night in School of Community, as four of us sat at the dining-room table of a friend's house. We are continuing to read and reflect on Father Carrón's introduction to the Fraternity Exercises of 2011. As I mentioned, we've been encouraged to watch our "I" in action. Last night, we talked about the Mystery of this "I." The 20th century poet Cesare Pavese described it in his diaries this way: “[W]hat a man seeks in his pleasures is that they should be infinite, and no one would ever give up hope of attaining that infinity."

Swimming is one of my greatest pleasures. It's meditative. It makes me think of life in the womb and it brings to mind happy memories of summer swim team. Swimming is cathartic, soothing and invigorating all at once. Even with all that, once I manage to swim a mile without stopping, another fitness goal is going to loom. Maybe I'll think about running a 5k.

Or instead of another fitness goal maybe something else will provoke me, such as my desire to read all of Dostoevsky's works and a whole host of other Russian writers: Sholokhov, Gogol, Pushkin, and Solzhenitsyn. Or maybe I will begin pouring myself once again into my master's degree in special education; I am halfway there, too.

I've been alive nearly half a century and I know the way I move from passion to passion. This is the human condition. Someone put this question in us and we are compelled to try to answer it. It doesn't matter what happens to us in this life, whether, as my family has, we endure a terror attack, or whether we are raising all the children we ever dreamed of. We are filled with longing with desire and no human person or activity or fitness goal or work of art will ever fulfill it. This is the key to our liberation.

‘The mere presence of the everlasting idea of the existence of something infinitely more just and happy than I, already fills me with abiding tenderness and–glory–oh, whoever I may be and whatever I may have done! To know every moment, and to believe that somewhere there exists perfect peace and happiness for everyone and for everything, is much more important to a man than his own
happiness. The whole law of human existence consists merely of making it possible for every man to bow down before what is infinitely great. If man were to be deprived of the infinitely great, he would refuse to go on living, and die of despair.’”  - Father Giussani

 J., our leader, told us last night about a man he met decades ago in Brooklyn, a Polish man who had lived under martial law during the early 1980s. Sealed borders, curfews, censored mail, restricted travel, criminalized trade unions, suspended schools and universities. And yet, even in those moments, human longing could not be extinguished.

"What was it like," J. asked the man, "to have your freedom taken away?"
"Oh, " the man replied. "They never took away my freedom."


  1. Allison, I am so glad I stopped by before turning out my light tonight. Surely my sleep will be blessed by having such thoughts as these drifting through my mind as I doze.
    ...somewhere there exists the perfect peace and perfect happiness for everyone and everything...
    That line is so beautiful. It soothes my soul. I have been observing so much selfishness and desire to stir up hostility in our society. This line defies that self-centeredness and gives me hope.

  2. May: I am so glad you enjoyed it. Father Giusanni's writings are very dense, and very beautiful. Not "quick reads." But well worth the effort.