There is a lot said and written about love these days. I decided to join in. But the love story I encountered ends in doubt. And a touching memory.
It is seven years ago that I got to spend a most lovely time of Advent in a cozy home with a handful of decent people, many of which had become good friends. Besides, I was in love. It was a life »cast in milk chocolate«, an emotional paradise.
This life was interrupted at 4 a.m. on Dec 25. We boarded a bus to Milano. European Youth Meeting. After the travel and briefings, we were too late to reach our accommodation by public transportation. Stuck at the main station, we tried to find an Italian who might help us to call our host. We found a lady willing to help, her boyfriend nagged about not having time. I heard her saying something like »Ma che è Natale!« (But it’s Christmas!).
For the meeting, I was put on the most boring and useless post imaginable, being appointed a »Meeting Hall Responsible« (and I know there is no such noun in English), having one sole assignment: Be there, always. So I was, but there was nothing for me to do. Nothing but sitting around and waiting. And making absolutely no difference.
One evening, my hall was about to be closed and I left to catch some sleep. On my way to the metro, I got a phone call: if I was still at the Fiera, medical emergency in hall 21.
It seemed as if an epileptic seizure of a young woman had finally given a meaning to my existence in Milano.
I went back to my hall and found a bunch of people gathered around a person lying on the floor. They gave me to understand that she was German, she had suffered an epileptic seizure, ambulance was on its way, and they needed translation. We found a French woman who was fluent in Italian, and for one night in my whole life I was fluent in French. We had to wait for about an hour in the ER. Seizures didn’t cease but we slowly came to the impression that they were rather a desperate call for attention from a girl in a poor psychological condition. The doctor who came to see the girl spoke some English, so the French woman left. They wanted to keep the girl over night. When I told her, she touched my hand, she looked into my eyes with an expression of deep sadness and loneliness and asked me to stay.
I thought for a moment. I had implicit instructions not to stay. I had the chance to make a difference, for the first time since I had arrived to the relatively rough climate of this meeting. The hospital was full so they placed her bed on the corridor, I took a seat next her.
Until this day, I wonder why I stayed. Because of that woman at the main station saying »Ma che, è Natale!«? Out of love, to stand by a poor soul who simply deserved not to be left alone once in her life? Because I wanted my existence to have a meaning? To be a hero?
I did not become a hero. The meeting’s medical responsibles most softly rebuked me for taking my own decision saying that they should have given me explicit instructions to get back to my accommodation (and under the monastic rule of subordination I was expected to follow).
What I didn’t know when I took my seat in the corridor was that it was a different kind of heroism that was forced upon me that night. One that calls for a very humble memorial act until this day and all the days to come on which I remember that night.
Save on the corridor, the girl calmed down. She started to tell me her life story in all its cruel details. She talked about the twelve psychiatric hospitals she had lived in over the past nine years. She described some of the most atrocious and destructive acts man is capable of performing. Heroism was not about sleep deprivation or going beyond a call of duty, it was about sharing emotional suffering – with the pictures she drew in my mind, an eternal challenge. No heroic feelings left.
I came across the thought that I tried to pull off a quite selfish act that night, justified by the call for love, charity, and solidarity that is present around Christmas everywhere — and all year round on the hill of Taizé. I wanted to get out of my boredom, out of my useless daily routine. I wondered how selfless love can be, if one can love without fulfilling own needs. And how much all of that matters.
The next morning, I reported UA to the responsible sister at CISI. I left the girl with a red bowl, a symbol of the peace she had come to find in Milano. A couple of weeks later, I was given to understand that for her, it did not matter which motives made me stay that night.
I have to remember that girl each time people gather for the European meetings at the end of the year. Each time I come across St. Augustine’s words »Aimes, et dis-le par ta vie« (Love and say it with your life). Each time love and affection lead me on a way I didn’t want to go in the first place.
I do not know if this girl found or will ever find peace for her soul. She definitely yearned for it. She is one of countless persons who have to cope with an unbearable injury (with the nature of the injury being entirely irrelevant). May they find healing. Not only around Christmas.