“Youth is the only vice that is lost with age”, someone once said. Actually, the opposite is true: youth is the only thing that remains, even as the years pass. We lose our hair, we start getting wrinkles, maybe the maturity of judgment grows with physical ailments, but there’s one thing that never stops being itself – our heart remains young for our entire life. You can be constrained to your bed, without moving, without being able to say anything…but your eyes speak of a heart that’s alive, that beats, that desires the same thing that it wanted when it was little, when it was young. What does it desire? First of all, it desires to be loved. Certain of this, it’s still curious, longing to know the true meaning of reality. In this sense, one remains young forever if they keep this desire open, if they don’t sensor or suffocate it. Maybe in this lies Jesus’ invitation to Nicodemus to be born again when one is already old, to become like children again.
If a child is the classic example of this desire, of this positive openness to reality, it’s in young people that this desire evolves into courage, creativity, desire to build, and a need for something great and adventurous.
In this way we end up fixing ourselves on images of our future that are more or less unrealistic: to be an astronaut, a model, a rapper… They’re attempts to give substance to a vague sentiment of self-realization; inevitably, they tend to reduce that desire, giving a small answer to a big question. These images end up disappointing us: even if one were to realize their dream, they would end up discovering that it’s not enough to guarantee them happiness.
Among the many anniversaries that take place this year (from the collapse of the Wall to the death of Leonardo da Vinci, from the moon landing to the massacre at Tienanmen square), it’s been two hundred years since Giacomo Leopardi wrote the poem The Infinite. Its verses describe well how the beauty of reality provokes in each of us the desire for eternity. Maybe it’s also for this reason that the Internet fascinates us: because it presents us an infinite possibility to search, find, see, and know. It gives us the impression that we have something infinite at our disposal. Yet even this is a misleading understanding because it leaves out aspects of reality that are too important: physical contact, taste, smell, the concrete presence of another, of nature, of everything that you would otherwise only see virtually. And it’s not enough. We want the real infinite.
Our friend Wu Yi Ru from Taiwan comes to mind, who, years ago, accepted a little bit hesitantly the invitation from Fr. Paolo Desandrè to her and her friends to venture on an impromptu hike in the mountains on a cool evening in August. All of a sudden, she found herself in front of the most luminous night sky she’d ever seen. And there, in the presence of the infinite, she perceived for the first time in her life that everything that she saw must have a Creator and that she herself was a part of the majestic work that is creation. It was the seed of her later conversion to Christianity.
So, what do our young people need? The same thing that we need: someone that takes us to see the stars, the sky, someone who shows us that we are made for the infinite, and that we can experience this infinite here and now.
What happens when this doesn’t take place? When we live without someone who educates us to use our desire? We risk becoming like the protagonist of Novecento by Baricco, raised in a virtual world, a son without a father, a genius without a master. We would become people who are afraid, unable to choose, that stop half way up the ladder and turn around and go back down. When one isn’t certain that they’re loved, when they aren’t educated to the fact that reality, despite the evil, is ultimately positive, they end up not wanting to live anymore, like the seventeen-year-old girl that asks to leave this life forever with consent of her parents and society. The opposite of youth is skepticism, which leads to desperation.
Our heart never ceases waiting for someone to help us perceive the meaning that lies in the lowly appearance of reality. Someone that brings us to believe that this reality is an open door to something even greater. And this waiting doesn’t diminish with age, it grows as we get closer to that word “end” that is, in fact, only a new beginning.
(In the photo, games during a hike with some students from Santiago del Cile)