Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Follow your heart

The columnist in the Peace Weekly "Preview of Events" discusses the reasons the novel by Susanna Tamaro, Follow Your Heart (Va' Dove ti Porta il Cuore, in Italian), quickly became, in 1994, an international best seller. Over 20 million hearts, it is said, have been moved by the story, which was made into a movie and translated into 45 languages, even being recommended by the Vatican and translated several times into Korean.

The book is written in the style of letters, written by Olga, a grandmother, to her teenage granddaughter, Marta, now in the United States, after living briefly, and unhappily, with Olga, who took her in after her mother died. Like an autobiography, the book reviews the life of the grandmother, who examines her life from her early years in an autocratic family, to being married unhappily to Augusto, her relationship with a married doctor, Ernesto, his death, and the unpleasant relationship she had with her daughter Ilaria, Marta's mother. Olga relates all this very honestly to Marta with all the passion and pain that went along with it. She explains that Marta's mother, Ilaria, was not the daughter of Augusto, Olga's husband, but of the doctor Ernesto, who was the grandmother's lover. She also told Marta that on the day she confessed the truth to Ilaria, she bolted from the house, very much distressed and died in an automobile accident that same afternoon. 

The columnist points out that Olga was brought up in a conservative family and that her daughter Ilaria, influenced by her mother, became involved in women rights issues. This also brought conflict into their relationship which later influenced the granddaughter, who was not able to find what was important in life and lived purposelessly.  The book shows the conflict that tends to exist between different generations (grandmother, mother, granddaughter) and looks at the 20th century women rights issues, and its woman-to-woman talk about love and truth.

The grandmother, in her letters to her granddaughter says that the first thing of importance when wanting to change something--as one is growing into adulthood--is the need to begin the change from within oneself. One of the mistakes, she warns, that we often make is to forget this self-awareness when problems arise, and as we struggle to resolve them. The grandmother advises her granddaughter that when you are faced with many paths to choose from and you don't know which to take, don't take just any path but sit down and take time to think and to listen to the voice within you. When you hear the voice speaking to you from inside, that is the voice, she says, you want to follow.

“Who among us has wept for these things, and things like this? Who has wept for the deaths of these brothers and sisters? Who has wept for the people who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who wanted something to support their families? We are a society that has forgotten the experience of weeping, of 'suffering with': the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!" These are the words of Pope Francis in his sermon on the island of  Lampedusa, shortly after the boat carrying migrants from Libya sank, killing 360 who had left their country hoping for a better life.

The columnist mentions a retreat she made in which the bishop giving the retreat used the words of St. Augustine: "Love and and follow the way of your heart." This is not a subjective teaching, she says, but one that makes us think of what, ultimately, is our desire and intention. She thinks this is the difference that has entered the Church with Pope Francis. Before Francis, people were seeing the problems of society but not knowing precisely how to express what they were seeing. The Pope is now showing us how to respond.

There is no denying that the disputes today in society are getting more violent: Impetuous, careless words hurled at others we disagree with, opposing positions, armed with great emotion, intent on forcing their views on others. And the competitive climate that surrounds any endeavor contributes to stifle our ability and willingness to reach out to the other, as does the need to care for ailing parents, the search for personal fulfillment, while not a few despair about their situation in life and choose extreme solutions. The need for human sensitivity and compassion is now being expressed by many voices. The hope we have for blessings, isn't it related to our God=Love understanding? If we could follow this 'follow your heart' understanding, as the grandmother finally came to realize, we would be much closer to living a life that is truly human.

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