Traces N.2, February 2004

The Waitress and the History of the World

One of the unwritten imperatives of today’s world requires us to think that in order to feel alive, we have to change often: change locations, change loves, change jobs, change looks.
The poet T.S. Eliot warned in the Choruses from the Rock, “The world turns and the world changes,/ But one thing does not change…/ The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.” This means, in other words, the struggle, the difference between what fulfills desire completely and what, on the contrary, disappoints and depresses it.
History changes, both personal and collective; places change, customs change. In recent decades, we have seen a remarkable number of changes in world politics and in the habits, fashions, and means available to man. And yet the heart of the person’s life, what St Paul calls “mentality,” can remain the same as it was, unmoved, and, in the midst of the lasting struggle between what is perceived as good and evil, can feel as out of place, uncertain, as ever–a mentality, an “I,” benumbed, basically, maybe left hanging between great bursts of enthusiasm and bitter moments of withdrawal. As a result, between desire and depression, it seems that the bottom line is almost always zero. And the “I” does not seem to have an identity, a real, fulfilled life, but only an appearance of existence, as though we had to take refuge in a virtual life in order to steal a few instants from desperation.
The period that saw the rise of Christianity was also marked by great upheavals, countless different proposals and invitations, spiritual seductions, great ideologies. In that context, Christianity did not posit itself as a “new argument” about the world and about man. It was an encounter, a persuasion made up of friendship, arising from Jesus of Nazareth and spreading to the farthest reaches of the Earth. The people struck by this encounter perceived the possibility of a true life for their “I,” a rebirth or recreation, a beginning of fulfillment. It happens today in the same way. In the very same way.
The fact triumphs over ideology because, as Alain Finkielkraut writes, “Ideology is the refusal to do justice in human affairs to the unforeseeable and the forms of dispossession brought about by an event, the encounter with something that was already there.”
A waitress in the hotel in Minneapolis, where the gathering of our friends, the responsibles of the Movement in the United States and Canada, was held in mid-January, while she was pouring water for the guests, was struck by the intensity of the testimonies, something she had never seen or heard. She asked for the chance for her son and herself to join this strange friendship.
To be alive, it is not necessary to make an effort to change your life. All you have to do, while you are serving water or busy at any other occupation, is to be open to the event of an unexpected encounter.