The New York Encounter: Why?

I wrote for "Traces" again this New York Encounter but in the middle of it I wondered whether I had made a mistake. I enjoy writing but it is always slog.

I wrote for Traces again this New York Encounter but in the middle of it I wondered whether I had made a mistake. I enjoy writing but it is always slog. Last year, due to my habit of obsessively collecting information before and during the writing process (transcribing interviews, snatches of poems, articles, etc.) I was completing an article on Christian Wiman while chain smoking on my friend’s stoop in Astoria at 3am Sunday morning. Now, Saturday afternoon, I was again slogging away at an article (this time on the Richard Cabral event) and wondering: What am I doing this for?

It was my friend Michele who answered my question. He led my friends and me through the exhibit on Fr. Giussani’s life and shared how Fr. Giussani’s method of facing reality had opened up the way he looked at his own life. Specifically Michele remembered when a teacher overheard him during a free period asking a friend about life and its difficulties. His friend told him not to worry about those things but just enjoy life as it comes. At that moment the teacher intervened and told him it was a far nobler life to wake up every day and ask “Why?” because if he did not keep asking he might not ever discover the answer. This way of living attracted Michele but he soon discovered that to live like this he needed a companionship of friends who keep this question alive for him.

It struck me that I was not able to get within ten feet of the Metropolitan Pavilion, where the Encounter was taking place, without seeing the face of a friend who did the same for me. In fact, I came back home to Virginia on Sunday excited to go to work the next day (even though I had to teach on MLK day when the rest of my teacher friends had it off and could stay in NYC) because of the faces of my friends who live with the certainty that reality does not betray them and so are able to ask “Why?” of their circumstances not with fear, but curiosity.

However, what was most moving to me about Michele’s witness occurred at the end of the tour. He turned and thanked each of us, saying, "Thanks, because you make me aware of what I have been given."

I looked around the writing room where other writers- Stephen, Siobhan, Patrick, and Rose, my friends- were cheerfully plugging away at their articles, and it became clear why we were all there, late Saturday night (until someone declared defeat for the day and proposed a night cap): we had seen something beautiful that weekend and we wanted to share it. And that, I think, is why, a week later, my heart is full of gratitude. Or more specifically, as Rose later posted to Facebook, “My heart is full with the faces of my friends. What an astoundingly beautiful weekend at the New York Encounter."