The right mother

A short hike with a group of families becomes an opportunity to reflect on the communal dimension of education

A group of families of Communion and Liberation on a hike

We stop. The path to the waterfall is narrow and a few kids are already walking back wet and shivering, blocking the way for us to go up. These, the older ones of the group, had left first. As soon as someone had yelled out: “Let’s go to the waterfalls!”, the difficulty of the morning hike was swept away and they immediately ran towards the new path. In the mist, a child slipped on the wet rocks and was frightened by the innocuous scrape he recieved. One of the mothers offered him help right away, until his mother was able to arrive to console her little boy.

As I wait in line for the path to clear to continue the climb, a little girl behind me takes my hand. She is a tiny blond girl in a red hat. She must be about three years old. Her other hand holds tightly on to her mother’s. Amazed by her nonchalance, I lean over and ask her name: Agnese. “You are very brave, Agnese!” Mom smiles and proudly points out that she is going up alone. Finally, we can set off again, and Agnese naturally continues to hold my hand. She is serene and proceeds briskly, not caring that some rock steps far exceed the possibility of her little legs. We climb together. At one point, Agnes lets go of the woman’s hand, “Then I’ll leave her with you!” she says to me. A little self-conscious, I seek comfort from Agnese: “Are you fine with climbing to the waterfall without mom?” “I’m not her mother!” she replies. My esteem for this little alpinist grows.

As we continue to climb, some parts of the trail begin to be a little more exposed. I think to myself that we’d better start figuring out who her real parents are. “Agnese, what is your mom’s name?” “Leti,” she replies. I was invited to this young family vacation without knowing almost anyone; however, in two days, I’d managed to introduce myself to almost the entire group, 60 adults and 60 children. I try to reconstruct in my mind who Mama Leti might be. Okay, I got it!

Finally we arrive: we are under the waterfall. The water falls sheerly and its thunder fills the bay between the mountains. It is a marvelous spectacle of power, beauty and sacrality. Agnese is more enraptured than I. What do I do now? Suddenly, in front of me, on a boulder a bit higher than where we were, I see Letizia. She is zipping up the little jacket of another child, perhaps a brother: around the waterfall the air is rather chilly. “Leti, I’ve brought you Agnese!”. “Thanks! Come here, Agne!”. I pass Agnese to Letizia and announce with pride: “Agne, look: it’s your mama!”. The child lets herself be passed calmly to Letizia, who, however, looks at me and says: “I’m not her mother; it’s another Letizia. Her parents must be here somewhere; I’ll take her to them!”.

Agnese was generated by the friendship that her parents live with their friends

I stood for a while in silence contemplating the waterfall. I also thought about Agnese and her walking “moms.” A community is necessary for a child to grow. Agnese set out for the waterfall because she was sure of her parents’ affection and because she saw her parents trust their friends. So she also trusted and reached something amazing without being taken personally by her parents. Agnese was generated by the friendship her parents experience with their friends.

Sometimes, I meet parents who are rightly concerned about the future of their children. Then I think of little Agnese, who is certainly not old enough to speak elaborately about trust and friendship. However, I am sure that by watching her parents, she has realized that it is worth trusting when someone invites you to go and see something beautiful. She has sensed that the world is good and not scary, that there are people who can keep you company along the way. One day, she will understand that the greatness of two parents’ love lies not primarily in being able to carry their child all the way to the waterfall but in entrusting her to someone who is walking in that direction.

Back at the hotel, after a shower, we  immediately transition to the afternoon meeting. I enter the hall and while looking for a seat, I run into a mother whom I haven’t met yet. I introduce myself, “Fr. Stefano.” “Nice to meet you, Letizia!” And she is finally the right mother!

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