The bittersweet flavour of growing up
This summer I spent ten days in my hometown. They weren’t exactly holidays, it was more about spending some time with family and friends.
For Jesuits, returning to one’s hometown is a truly special occasion. In my own case, after a year studying in Rome, the desire to spend some time back home was even greater than usual.
Returning to my parents’ house means that I’ve got the time to spend speaking with family. I can tell them how university’s going, how my companions in our community are doing, and what day-to-day life in Italy’s like. It’s a strange feeling to return to my old room, seeing how the things I left behind when I entered the Society of Jesus are still in their proper place: the desk, the books, my notes from university and the poster on the wall, among other things.
On the other hand, returning home after a year away also makes things seem different. The house looks smaller, and the garden isn’t as big as I used to remember it. My brothers Pablo and Guillermo and my sister Belén have all grown. My parents are older, they grumble a bit more and they’re somewhat more whimsical than they used to be. “Every time you return home”, a Jesuit friend of mine once told me “you’ll see them ageing”.
I didn’t feel sad or out of place. It was that sensation of noticing that things change, that life goes on, that I don’t live there anymore. That perhaps I wasn’t as necessary as I believed myself to be. Returning home means joy, but it also means a smidgen of nostalgia. It means remembering all that I had chosen to leave behind to follow that path which promised me the greatest of joys. Of course, I was happy with this decision, but that nostalgia’s still there.
On one of those evenings I went out with some of my closest friends. It was great being there with them. We spoke as though we’d last seen each other the day before, and we laughed together as we remembered events from the past. It was as though no time at all had passed, but the truth was, it had. Looking at them one by one, I realized that many, if not all, were married with children. Others worked abroad. Each one of us, in one way or another, had gone on with their life. Almost as one we observed: “We’ve grown old!”
At a certain point that evening, I found myself in the kitchen with two of my friends, one married with children and the other working in the UK. As we began to chat, they told me about how happy they were with their lives, with their children, with their work abroad and with their new car. But they also mentioned those things they missed from the past, and how they had seen their parents begin to grow old. We reminisced about that summer when we were fifteen years old, when together on the beach we believed that life would be an eternal summer, and that our lives were all ahead of us.
“But deep down there’s something much more important: being with my wife’s worth it” said one. “The experience of working outside Spain’s really enriched me” replied the other. In that moment, I understood that we all had some feelings in common. That nostalgia felt the same for all three of us. We all missed what we had left behind but, even more strongly, we all felt fulfilled by what we were now doing. Fulfilled by the love and the passion we had found.
We had followed a sign that someone had sent us. And following that sign was worth the cost. I feel fulfilled.