Stories & Reflections
(I am giving a conference in Tunis, Tunisia, in April 2006)
The conversation continues, time passes quickly and I need to wrap things up. For the last question, I choose, at random, out of the six hundred people there, a middle-aged man with a bushy moustache.
‘I don’t want to ask a question,’ he says. ‘I just want to say a name.’
The name he pronounces is that of Barbazan-Debat, a chapel in the middle of nowhere, thousands of kilometres from here, the same chapel where, one day, I placed a plaque in gratitude for a miracle and which I had visited, before setting out on this pilgrimage, in order to pray for Our Lady’s protection.
I don’t know how to respond. The following words were written by one of the other people on stage with me.
In the room, the Universe seemed suddenly to have stopped moving. So many things happened: I saw your tears and the tears of your dear wife, when that anonymous reader pronounced the name of that distant chapel.
You could no longer speak. Your smiling face grew serious. Your eyes filled with shy tears that trembled on your lashes, as if wishing to apologise for appearing there uninvited.
Even I had a lump in my throat, although I didn’t know why. I looked for my wife and daughter in the audience, because I always look to them whenever I feel myself to be on the brink of something unknown.
They were there, but they were sitting as silently as everyone else, their eyes fixed on you, trying to support you with their gaze, as if a gaze could ever support anyone.
Then I looked to Christina for help, trying to understand what was going on, how to bring to an end that seemingly interminable silence.
And I saw that she was silently crying too, as if you were both notes from the same symphony and as if your tears were touching, even though you were sitting far apart.
For several long seconds, nothing existed, there was no room, no audience, nothing. You and your wife had set off for a place where we could not follow; all that remained was the joy of living, expressed in silence and emotion.
Words are tears that have been written down. Tears are words that need to be shed. Without them, joy loses all its brilliance and sadness has no end. Thank you, then, for your tears.
I should have said to the young woman who asked the first question about signs that this was a sign, confirming that I was where I should be, in the right place, at the right time, even though I didn’t understand what had brought me there.