A cure for Romesickness


Readjusting to life in Irving

For those who have returned from a semester abroad, it is sometimes difficult not to yearn for Rome. After the joy of trotting across Europe, the north Texas metroplex, for all its two-city sprawl, multi-laned highways and crowded skyline, seems almost constricting. In contrast, the alleys running between piazzas, the micro gelaterias and the neatly tucked away churches of the Eternal City, however narrow in reality, loom massive in memory.

Indeed, Rome makes up for its lack of physical space with its reigning sense of place. A similar sense of place pervades all the major European cities. Each city, steeped in centuries of memory, is personalized by that memory. Thus, one does not merely encounter these cities, but, as it were, befriends them. 

As in friendship, their different temperaments suit different travelers, so much so that a question as simple as “Why was Delphi your favorite Greek city?” may be only deceptively casual. In fact, it can be an intensely personal query, akin to asking why you love a particular friend.

The personalities of cities is especially evident — in an odd way — for those who have read and wondered about these cities for years, who, despite living far away, have digested the memories of these cities by consuming their literature and history. To them, the cities they stumble upon are like old family friends who have been absent too long; a vaguely familiar love exists, even if personal “aggiornamento” is required.

 I experienced this sense of old friendship in a particular way in London, where the names of the city sections bore meaning for me beyond what I could have immediately brought to mind. Names like “Soho,” “Charing Cross” and “Piccadilly” struck chords in a brain tuned to the language of Dickens, Wodehouse, Doyle, and Greene. 

These places in London had lived in the literature I had read, but how much deeper the sense of place — the heartfelt peace — in the garden at Les Buissonets where little Thérèse Martin told her father of her resolve to enter Carmel!

Thus, in a sense, the semester abroad is defined by space, space that meaningfully distills itself as place. That is not to say that the temporal loses all significance across the Atlantic. After all, “Ten-day” is obviously defined by its duration. Even in that week and a half, however, the experience is defined primarily by where one goes. 

On the Irving campus, on the other hand, schedules do not shift so freely; time governs. This is only logical. But if space can become personalized, can take on meaning in individual places, is it not possible to transform time in such a way that it becomes meaningful for us in particular moments?

For a moment to be authentic, it must endure in memory long after it ceases to be temporally present, in the same way that a place best discloses its authenticity when it is recalled by someone absent from it. Moments require persons, for only persons can imbue them with enduring meaning. This is the task that lies before us, namely, to accept with our whole persons the moments of time given to us, so that we may both transform them and be transformed in them. To do this, we must not simply move according to schedule, content to reach the weekend, the upcoming break or graduation. 

Instead, we must cherish the moments in which personhood is revealed in its full power: the second in which an intellectual insight takes place, the split-second of mutual understanding caught in the glance of a friend, the blink of an eye before the Blessed Sacrament in which Christ pours forth an abundance of grace.

It is difficult to ignore places, to stand within the all-embracing arms of the piazza of Saint Peter’s and feel unmoved. Too often, though, we let moments escape us. We are beings who exist in time and space; we must personalize both. For those who have already gone abroad, or are looking to go soon, see that as a wonderful opportunity in which the gift of place is explored. But for those who remain in Irving and live, as it were, in a world of time, grasp the gift of each singular moment. 

If we do so, if we truly personalize time and make it meaningful, then, just like a European city whose significance has been acquired only in time, through the persons of poets and saints, this unlikely corner of the world — University of Dallas, Irving Campus — may itself become more of a place, the ground upon which saints and poets walked.


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