The acceptance of a gift - Susanna Tamaro
Jubilee 2000 Search

The signs of hope: witness

Susanna Tamaro

Unfortunately, I don't have a particularly happy memory of my first encounter with Catholic doctrine. I recall a freezing hall, the sing-song voice of a priest who was talking about strange stories which I could not follow through to the end and the chorus of our answers spoken out loud, always the same and always incomprehensible.
Within me, there were already great and terrible questions which were boiling. Why is there evil? Why does everything end? Why are we born? Why do we die? And instead of answers, I only received some «stories» which were not able to draw me in their folds. I had been waiting for the beginning of catechism with great excitement, I hoped to receive some answers to my worries, but that excitement, afternoon after afternoon, parable after parable, was slowly dissipating, leaving me more and more unsatisfied and deluded.

There was no anger, nor rejection in that dissatisfaction, just bitterness of someone who doesn't feel respected in their desire to get closer to the Truth. On the way hope, I walked quickly, wrapped up in my thoughts. If God is good and loves us, why does he permit evil? Why does he force Abraham to lift his sword over his son Isaac? Why did Cain kill Abel? Why did Judas prefer a small pittance of money over the love of Jesus?
I remember my childhood like a prolonged insomnia, sometimes I had the impression that my head would explode for the many questions floating in it, for the total absence of an adult who was capable of taking me by the hand and accompanying me through the answers. In this absolute solitude of mine, only two images were very peaceful for me: the Guardian Angel and the Holy Spirit. Both had vaporous, white wings, both lived next to men, but were not men, they flew above us, participating in the events of the earth without being captured, far from hate and betrayal which had killed Jesus.

In my book of doctrine, The Guardian Angel was represented next to a child who, having his books under his arm, is crossing the street to go to school. And so, effectively, I felt his presence in every moment of the day and night: behind, above me, to my right. He alleviated my solitude, to him, in a silent way, I spoke and asked advice. The Angle, however, was «easy» to understand. Less understandable was that strange dove which emanated light and who, in ways absolutely beyond my reach, was kin with Jesus and God and Abraham.
The day of Confirmation I remember having raised my eyes to the sky to look for, amongst all the gray and fat pigeons of the city, my white dove. I anxiously waited for its ray of light: it was to have come down from the sky and illuminate my bewildered and frightened life, transforming it in a strong and courageous one, like a «soldier of Christ», as they used to say at the time in catechism. With Her, thanks to Her and for Her, I would have been able to confront any vicissitude without stopping and without being confused.

From that day of May, 32 years have gone by, a long enough time to look back and begin a period of reflection. That «trace» which at 20, at 30 years old is still not understandable in all its fullness, at 40 becomes clearly visible. As a certain distance is necessary for observation, to render the traces of a painting more worthy, so is the passing of time to better understand the action of the Holy Spirit in the restricted limits of our lives. Only in this way, that which seemed a fragment, becomes a situation of particular fundamental importance, only in this way does coincidence take flight leaving room for the trauma of a precious designed plan.
Looking back at my life, if there was a precise moment in which I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit reflourish within me it was when I was about 23 years old, when I discovered within me the capacity of writing and communicating. I had never thought of it before, actually my interests were up to that moment focused on an opposite field.

I precisely remember the vanishing of the timidness which followed this discovery. Why me? I would ask myself. What do I have to do with this? But, at the same time, even, the great unreasonable certainty that the path which I needed to follow was this one. It felt a little as though two people lived within me: one who was totally certain about her incapacity and the other, strangely sure of the importance of what she was doing. We often speak so much about art, but so little about what happens in the soul of an artist. Why at a certain point, does a person discover that they have something inside themselves which makes them different from others? What is that thing? What sense does it have in the development of a life?
With the passing of time I had to find the answers to all these questions, and so, slowly, I discovered that the artistic talent is a sort of double edged sword. If it is lived for that which it is - its a gift which encloses within it the mystery of gratuity - to whomever possesses it, it can bring them on a path of interior richness and extraordinary sharing with others. However, if it is lived like a personal merit, something which makes one different and superior to others, the road traveled by those people inevitably will wrap around them in a suffocating spiral. They myth, so deeply cultivated in this last century, of the artist absolute in their grandness, is therefore implicitly superior to others, it is nothing but the consequences of this subtle and demonic presumption.

Naturally, receiving the gift is only the beginning, the path which leads to rendering this gift explicit is often long and hard, full of suffering. And it requires total confidence in the charisma of the Holy Spirit - intellectual, science, council, fear of God, strength, piety, knowledge. Because even when you succeed to develop this talent, there are always insidious powers - vanity, pride and avarice, with all their dark consequences- waiting to lead to false values and confusion. You only need to abandon, even for a little while, the confidence and the support of the Spirit for humility to turn into its opposite, arrogance.
I have never considered writing a job, nor could I ever do it. I know that it was something which has absorbed a certain part of my life and which has allowed me to communicate my feelings and reflections with a great number of people, in much of the world. I continue to consider it an extraordinary human and spiritual adventure, of which I have no merit, except that of having fully confided in the charisma, which is given to each one of us by the Holy Spirit.