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"Close your eyes and open them again”

After emergency heart surgery, Fulvio is now in a rehabilitation center. "I remember the first day I looked out the window. There were four trees, the bus stop and, in the background, the ring road. Everything was wonderful."

I am now in my 60s and I recently had several medical checkups because of chest pain; the result was open heart surgery. There are times when the thought of death as a real possibility becomes inescapable. As they wheeled me into the operating room, I wondered if I would be ready. The question immediately seemed abstract, and I automatically said a Hail Mary. An instant later I was filled with gratitude for the endless series of beautiful things and encounters that life has given me. And I said my thank you. Only then did I realize I was ready. But it clearly was not my time yet, and so I awoke several hours later in intensive care. My body was a sore lump and I could only move my eyes. There was one thing, however, that I was able to do as I re-gained consciousness: invoke God's help. Then a small miracle happened: my eyes caught the silhouette of a crucifix on the opposite wall. It was Him, and He was there for me. The human gaze I needed to encounter was His. "To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, His response is that of an accompanying presence.” This is what Pope Francis says, which confirms my experience. Thus, with this in mind, I spent the days and nights still marked by fatigue and pain, but blessed by the first timid signs of recovery. I remember perfectly the first day when I was able to get out of bed and approach the window. The whole world was represented by four trees, the bus stop, the hospital parking lot and, in the background, the ring road: it all seemed wonderful to me. Such gratitude because the world exists.

Ten days after the surgery, I was scheduled to be transferred to a rehabilitation center. While I was getting ready, I received the news that my mother had gone to Heaven. I strongly felt the desire to go home, but my situation did not allow for it. I managed to give my children and friends from my Fraternity group some instructions and they took care of everything. My mother was accompanied to her encounter with the Lord with a simple funeral, but with attention to every small detail. The attention of my friends even allowed me to follow it via video link. Despite the immense grief for the loss of my mother and the sorrow of not having been able to be there physically, my heart was filled with immense peace.

Upon arriving at the centre, I was surprised by a questionnaire that aimed to determine whether a patient needs psychological support. In essence, it was a series of questions that can be summarized by these two extremes: either "life is still worth living" or "life is a drag". You had to fill it in and indicate where you stand on a scale of 1 to 5. I filled it out very quickly, with all my answers at one end of the scale: life was good before and it still is. I am so curious to see what else is in store for me and how the Lord will still want to surprise me. But I cannot take this for granted and, once again, it is a source of gratitude.

When Carrón spoke of the "hope that does not disappoint" during the last Fraternity Exercises, he quoted Fr. Giussani: "Ultimately, people need one thing: the certainty of the positivity of their time, of their lives, the certainty of their destiny.” This certainty is within me, not because of any particular gift of mine, but because of a history of belonging, in which reason and affection are continually called to Peter’s ‘yes’ and the fidelity of God.

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All the patients in this center have undergone serious surgery; it almost seems like a competition to see who has the longest scars or the most complicated angioplasty. It is very easy here to remember how fragile the human being is. The quantity and quality of the medical care is incredible, and this is also true for those who are worse off than me. You wonder what the likelihood is that they might be able to return to their families. Thus the question arose in me: for what is it really worth granting a person back to the world? One day, while lying in bed for the umpteenth ultrasound, I had an "enlightenment": it makes sense to invest so much in the human so that the person can return to its ultimate task that is to love and be loved.

Rosa Montero, in her article "Today, Here, Now" from Traces, writes, "I will be happy when I reach my destination. Well, the bad news is that you never arrive. There is only the today, the here and the now." I know that I have a lot of work to do, because not even what I am living, with the density of its challenge, if it does not become awareness, can save me from the risk of what is already known, of predictability. But if I could answer the Spanish journalist, in the light of my experience, I would say to her with great humility: "How can there be ‘only’ today, the here and now? Are you not surprised that they exist? And that they raise vital questions for you? I would say that you have to love reality just as it is, because it exists and it carries within it the seed of indestructible goodness. The good news is that today, the here and now are saved by a hope that does not disappoint, because Someone has created everything for existence." What is this "everything”? Close your eyes and open them again: everything. With you at the center.

Fulvio, Sondrio, Italy