London Commuters. Traces

The Beginning on Two Wheels

A surprising friendship is discovered among the frenetic London pace. A friendship among people that does not limit or isolate, but rather "illuminates everything".

All four of them came to London because of a passion. Saverio, for cycling; Paola and Teresa, for contemporary art; and Tommaso, for Teresa. Today, they make up a small Fraternity group in the heart of the city. And it’s the last thing any of them imagined when they met in England. Teresa was the first to arrive, five years ago. “After graduation from Brera Academy, I was accepted at University College London for a Master’s in Visual Arts,” recounts the 26-year-old who started a small studio to work on expositions and run workshops for museums. Three years after she arrived, Tommaso, leaving his wood-working shop in Caravaggio, near Bergamo, joined her. “We wanted to get married so, in 2015, I decided to close everything down, even our tax registration, and try my hand as a carpenter across the Channel.” The moment he landed, he realized that life there moved at 300 km/hour. He was quickly hired at a company that sells luxury furniture for big-name offices in the city. At the same time, he managed to open up his own side business. Then, once he was settled, he married Teresa. Before long, they found out they were expecting. “And as all that was happening, we became friends with Paola and Saverio,” Tommaso says. Paola is a long-time friend of Teresa from when they were at the Academy in Milan together. They met Saverio by chance. Someone had given him Teresa’s cell phone number before he left Italy on the chance that she might help him find a place to live. He’s 28 years old, from Torino. He graduated with a degree in History from the State University of Milan, but his true passion is cycling. “I thought I’d like to work in that field and after a few years as a bike mechanic in Italy, I decided to try to make a career in London,” he says. “After just two weeks, I was hired by the city’s biggest chain of bicycle shops.”

A Broken Bike
The four friends don’t get a chance to see each other often; it’s a big city with a frenetic pace. There are two things that hold them together: their Wednesday evening School of Community and the fact that, to save time and money, their primary form of transportation is on two wheels. “You could say that the most important stops on the road to forming our Fraternity group were reached while perched on the seat of a bike,” the four joke.

The first stop was at the beginning of 2016. A broken bike drove Teresa to visit Saverio’s shop. “That day, I simply said, ‘What would you say to getting together once a week to go over the School of Community reading?’” Saverio recounts. “Because, by myself, I’m getting lazy and I ended up never getting around to it.” She answered in all frankness, “Sounds good to us, because we have the same problem.” And then they invited Paola.

The second stop came during a ride through London’s parks. Teresa had just gotten a letter from the CL office saying that her request to enroll in the Fraternity was granted. The gesture wasn’t a formality for her; she thought about it for over a year. “I wanted this great companionship in my life, but I didn’t feel ready for such a radical belonging. When the letter came, all my questions about what it meant to adhere were broken open again.” During their ride, she talked to Saverio, who was already enrolled, about it. “Everyone was telling me that it was simple: you go to the Exercises, the retreats, and pay the Common Fund,” Teresa remembers. That afternoon, she asked Saverio, “But how can it transform the way you live?” He answered, “Our friendship is what has sustained my life since I got here. We share everything. Maybe we’re already a Fraternity.”

Then, the third stop. One evening, even though it was pouring rain, the four bundled up and rode their bikes to a pub in the Balham neighborhood. Their friend Peppe, a Memores Domini who leads their School of Community, was waiting. They wanted to ask him about the nature of their friendship. “He answered by telling us about his own experience. And he said that a Fraternity is not something you decide sitting around talking about it; it’s the recognition of something that’s already happening,” Paola says. With that, all of their hesitations were overcome.

But Peppe’s words weren’t the only thing to convince them. Over the last five months as a group, the familiarity among them has grown to encompass everything in their lives. “Here everything moves so fast, including interactions with others. You’re constantly meeting people, but it often ends up as a one-time thing. You go home with a face or a quick exchange or a joke in mind. Sometimes it bothers me, because initially it feels like everything is disconnected,” Teresa says. For example, the meeting with Hafida, a young Muslim woman she met along with Tommaso at the gym where they go climbing. “She was the one who came up to us and introduced herself. She told us about herself, about her studies and her work in a big consulting firm. And then she dropped her filter, confiding in us how sad she is because it’s difficult to make friends.” Impulsively, Teresa invited her for dinner. “There, I realized the value of our small fraternity, because two minutes after having invited her, I was already going back and forth in my head. I was tempted to forget it... instead I remembered that we had planned a barbecue with Saverio and Paola and we invited her to come to that.”

Barbecue with Hafida
The dinner was a surprise for everyone: for Hafida who felt included starting with the grocery shopping, which they did making sure to find halal meat that she could eat; and for the young friends who saw in their guest’s eyes and in the questions she asked that the unity they live is something profoundly new. “Hafida asked about us, about how we met each other. She, whose religion is so important to her, wanted to know a ton of things about ours.” And she perceived right away that they were free with each other. They weren’t afraid to tell each other things. Even further, they shared everything: what happens to one affects all of them. Their friendship is a spark, but it illuminates everything. “London is a city that seems like it wants to ‘suck you in.’ It’s a jungle that makes you feel all alone,” Tommaso explains. “I’m the first one to be amazed that a friendship like this exists, where it’s possible to really meet one another and recognize that we are loved in this life.”

The morning after the barbecue, pedaling toward her studio, Teresa was full of gratitude. “If Hafida hadn’t been there, we never would have become aware of what we’re living together. Our little group is what sustains all my enthusiasm and widens my horizons. The Fraternity is my heart being broken wide open.”