Traces N.2, February 2003

Young People and the Time of America

This issue of Traces devotes ample space to a forum on the condition of youth.

The generations of young people who have come on the scene, one after the other, in recent decades have found a world whose characteristics and “climate” are changing. Today, the greatest challenge is being young in a world dominated by fear and uncertainty.

After earlier decades marked by tension toward rebuilding (in the wake of the great wars that shaped the course of world history), generations of young people have come along whose attention has been catalyzed by utopia and ideology. There was the ideology that reads everything in a political key and, more recently (and only apparently its opposite), the ideology that reads everything in terms of individual success. In both versions, the ideology tends to offer a partial answer to the demand for total satisfaction that most immediately marks the heart and reason of the young.

The creation of a sort of paradise on earth, on one hand, or merely the achievement of a little paradise of personal property, have been the proposals to which many young people have compared their lives. The results of this experience have been various forms of impatience and disappointment, or surrender to an ultimately cynical life.

Today, something seems to have changed. Or rather, those proposals have left their fruits on the battlefield. These forms of ideology are still around, more or less masked and made more acute in their slogans and seductions, but a new feeling is forcefully emerging: fear.

John Paul II said recently, “Never as at the start of this millennium has man perceived how precarious is the world he has shaped. I am struck by the feeling of fear often dwelling in our contemporaries.”

Being young in an age of fear is like having one’s heart go against the current. While everything in a person tends to search for something that satisfies fully his desire for beauty, truth, and justice, what we meet and what is proposed publicly and privately seems marked by condemnation, precariousness, uncertainty, and doubtfulness.

The dearth of adults who are a presence bearing a positive hope, a constructive certainty for their lives, leaves many young people in an immense solitude, which they fill with the easy and sometimes terrible “games” that are readily available, when not with absurd forms of struggle against this sense of emptiness.

And yet, among the boys and girls of this age, the demand for something that responds to the elementary needs of the heart, as our forum reveals, emerges, irrepressible in the face of the circumstances, great or minute, of living. We must not be afraid of what emerges.

This is evident in American culture.
The drama lies in truly finding something that satisfies one’s life–and life as it is, with its limitations and its precipices, not life as a soap opera. This is the story, splendid and terrible, that is on stage in the American theater, and pertains to all. There is something powerful that pushes human freedom to try the paths toward a positive answer that can satisfy the expectation of the heart, and thus not remain eternally dissatisfied (how much culture, movies, and music bear this terrible news!).

As this drama goes on, with special effects and real collective and personal tragedies, a different, unimaginable sort of news is going around the US: indeed, the newness of the Event that changed the course of history, pointing it to the beginning of fulfillment, is being lived. In this issue are stories of people–many of them young–who live the most diverse situations (from an Army captain to a prison inmate). Their life has been touched by an encounter that has sown the seed of a beginning of exceptional satisfaction in the heart of their lives. This story is part of our drama, as wonder and testimony. And it takes the breath away, like the best blues.

Some time ago, Pasolini, seeing Moravia urge a father to try to “understand” his son, objected, “And after he has understood him? A man who loves acts.” That is to say, he is present, pointing to the hope that sustains him.