When a friend dies, especially if he or she is taken away from us unexpectedly or prematurely, a thought creeps in among the others and marks insistently the hours and days that follow. There is a space in our soul for a new silence. It is as if the noise of life becomes muffled, letting a deeper signal emerge. “But how?”, we say. “Him?”, “Her?”. We are stunned, caught by surprise, and this wonder settles in us. Being astonished by an unavoidable event can seem strange, yet that’s what happens. We are inclined to look at death as one looks at an important appointment, desired or feared, to which a date will ultimately be assigned. Remembering the friend, we then immediately think of ourselves. “It could have been my turn”, we think. “It could also happen to me when I least expect it”.
These silent reflections don’t stop us from going about our business, working, or even unwinding. But they do keep our mind in front of the mystery of life and of God. This is the deepest source of our wonder, and we let ourselves ask about the things that really matter, about “forever”.
From this silence, in a very natural movement, we are quickly brought back to our everyday existence. The days proceed for us as always, but the absence from normal life of the person that we love also changes our perspective on what is normal.
Friendships, especially if born, as happens for many of us, in the context of an intense communal experience of the same ideal, accompany us for a long time. If we have remained connected to the group or movement in which the friendship began, the presence of the friend does not fade from our life. In the new situation that death suddenly created, everything that we shared appears to us in a new way. We know that a friendship goes through different phases. Life brings us together and then separates us, sometimes to bring us closer again. Our connection was born in a high school classroom or a university lecture hall, and then each of us went our separate ways. Life events took place like moving away, a wedding, the birth of children, a career that kept us busy. The chances to see each other become more infrequent. In other cases, instead of drifing apart, differences of opinion, disagreements, or choices that we didn’t agree with came between us. Conflict has its place in certain friendships, especially those marked by a strong idealistic drive. Sometimes it is an almost necessary step that each of us must take to compare ourselves against the original shared experience. We often have to rediscover the meaning by getting past scandal and delusion because evil and our limitations don’t spare us from chasing the highest ideals. Now, in front of the death of the friend, not only are the urgencies that had taken hold of us put in their place, but our so-called worries are also shown to be hollow. The passions we had once lived lose their bite and the events of an important relationship appear to us in a new light. There will be time to think more deeply about old times and feelings but a phase is closed and it is natural to begin to take stock. Now the things that truly mattered in the history of that relationship begin to come out. We are brought back to think about the foundations of the relationship, the original promise that generated it. And what wonder we feel when the urge to hope still comes from that same promise! After the hardships of a lifetime, that geniune and beautiful impetus that characterized us from our youth is now a certainty that introduces to a new stage of waiting. It stretches us toward that same light in which the friend is now enveloped. In this way the eternal once again looks out again on time and lights up the current vicissitudes in which we fatigue, opening up a new possibility of fulfillment, this time definitive.
We rediscover, perhaps slowly, the energy of an ironic gaze that invests even the question marks left open in our relationships. It is like a smile that says to the friend: “We’ll see each other again, and then we’ll talk about it”.
“My life has been deeply marked by the changes in the ties of belonging, brought by them both to happiness and unhappiness”, wrote Eugenia Scabini, expressing that delicate sensibility for affective relationships that became the most authentic motive for her scientific research. But “life is greater than the narratives we make of it, and the ties are deeper than what appears in conscious choices”. This reconciled gaze throws us back into our daily work with a more mature serenity, with a happier trust in God, while remaining afflicted by the wounds that men cause themselves on Earth.
In the photo, a moment from the House of Formation’s retreat in Assisi.