Traces N.8, September 2007

The True Beginning, a Provocation to Life

“September, let’s go. It’s time to migrate,” said the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, referring to the shepherds who left their land for the annual transhumance. Is returning to work, setting foot once again in school, perhaps a “migration” from yourself? From what you desire? Is the meaning of the sense of duty many invoke for beginning again after summer vacation, the meaning of what you’re called to do by obligation or necessity, simply a matter of self-denial, throwing yourself into the prison of things?
Speaking to the international responsibles of CL, Fr. Carrón said that “the affirmation of the ‘I’ becomes a prison when it doesn’t correspond to the true nature of the ‘I.’ What is the nature of the ‘I’? Is it what it has to do (and thus never can be satisfied)? Is it what it is capable of achieving? Or is the nature of the ‘I’ the relationship with Mystery? So often we’re caught, jammed, because our mentality on this point is the same as everyone else’s.”
Saying that school starts again, whether I’m a student, teacher, or parent, means that I begin again at school with the full breadth of my humanity. The desire of the “I” is greater than any success or any disappointment, and stands up even under a mountain of debris. If I don’t begin again, nothing truly begins again, and I perceive reality as a huge indifferent contraption rolling along its course. In this way, I end up enduring the circumstances, a prisoner, already bored at the first step.
Only when we begin again, taking seriously our own questions and the urgent needs that underlie the desire for meaning, truth, and beauty that constitute us, does daily reality open its treasure trove of occasions, encounters, and discoveries. If it’s not this way, then school–like every other place you inhabit–becomes an anonymous desert where you encounter only appearances, where people only show the exterior–often the most superficial, and thus violent–part of themselves. So classrooms, hours, and dialogues where you should learn to be free become a waystation for convoys of enslavement. Instead of hope for the future of the nation, we have a societal emergency. “The crises in teaching,” wrote Charles Péguy in a 1904 back-to-school article, “are not crises of teaching; they are crises of life. A society that does not teach is a society that does not love itself, that has no esteem for itself, and this is precisely the case of modern society” (Lui è qui [He is Here], Bur, p. 39).
School does not inhabit a world apart; rather, it is the root and flower of a people. But no sociologist, no democratic pedagogist, and no education minister can make “the ‘I’ start again” at the right level in school, that is, on the level of freedom. An encounter is necessary. We know from life that the experience of freedom happens when we encounter something, someone who satisfies our desire for fullness. A lot of false promises of freedom come our way, but they dissolve to nothing when confronted with a sincere search for true liberation.
Notwithstanding all the difficulties and troubles, we need to ask, where are these encounters that make the “I” begin again, that make school not an exile from ourselves but an education, the adventure of entering reality, of becoming fully human?

In this issue of Traces, we offer examples of why it is worthwhile to start again, as seen in the lives of some students and teachers. “The true beginning,” Fr. Giussani said to a gathering of teachers in Viterbo (Italy) in August of 1977, “is a spur to life. Whatever is not a spur to life is a waste of time and energy, and prevents us from feeling true fulfillment.” We wish a good back-to-school time to everyone.