Saturday, September 12, 2020

Do You Believe in Signals


From In Front of the Jeweler's Shop, Act I, by Carol Wojtyla

"Teresa asked me today, 'Andrew do you believe in signals?'" I found this theme of "signals" difficult and continue to wrestle with it. Obviously it refers to the narrative about the "Biesczady night" when they were descending from the mountains, with Andrew "interested in Christine" and with Teresa reflecting "this did not spoil the pleasure of the ramble for me For I was always as hard as a tree that would rather rot than topple."  Thus Wojtyla sets the scene of distance between them, their impenetrability of boundaries.  He introduces the "call" and the attempt to respond by the boys in the group "Through the quiet, sleeping woods, through the mountain night went a signal".

Teresa's thought of that signal returns in the moment of Andrew's proposal: "That thought [about signals] returned to me today between Andrew's profile and the tower of the old town hall in our city--today between five and six in the afternoon, when Andrew asked me for my hand--then I was thinking about signals that could not connect.  It was a thought about Andrew and myself.  And I felt how difficult it is to live."  Wojtyla is clearly connecting the two moments together, joining them with the question "do you believe in signals?".  Earlier in the play and in their lives, Andrew was not open to her, he was " ...ready to follow sensation, strong, forceful sensation.  I wanted to regard love as passion, as an emotion to surpass all—I believed in the absolute of emotion." and Teresa was hard and unbending "hard as a tree that would rather rot than topple".  Yet, there was a signal that night on the mountain, a call that could not be ignored or missed despite their avoidance of relationship.  Both had heard it and yet they could not respond to it as they did not know what it meant, from whom or what it had come.

Is the signal a call from God to open oneself to the giving and receiving the gift of another?  Andrew admits that he had been seeking sensation rather than truth, rather than relationship "I went quite a long way before reaching Teresa, I did not find her at once.".  By the time of the "signal", he had matured and begun to seek truth: "gradually I learned to value beauty accesible to the mind" and became open to her.  Teresa, too, had matured and opened "I felt that somehow I was the right one for him, and that I supposed I could love him.  Being aware of that, I must already have loved him. But that was all. I never allowed myself to nurse a feeling that remained unanswered. Today [at the time of the proposal], however, I can admit to myself that I did not find it easy.".  Teresa thought of that signal at the time and place of their engagement "I was thinking about signals that could not connect  .It was a thought about Andrew and myself. And I felt how difficult it is to live." and it reminded her of how "hard" she had found the Biesczady night, of her suffering in the midst of the harmony of the night when "only man was off balance and lost", how off balance and lost she was.

I think that Wojtyla is proposing that despite the opportunities for relationship at the level of gift, of seeing and receiving the "other" as gift, that present themselves throughout life, that one must respond to God's "signal", His call to "radical gift".  That is, to respond to the signal communicating "an act of receiving in which the gift comes into being precisely from nothing" (TOB 13.3).  And Wojtyla recognizes that this response to the "signal", to the "call", is a "fiat", a "yes", rather than a forced choice.  And he emphasizes the reality of choice, of the possibility of missing the "signal": "For several years she had been walking by me and I did not know that it was she who was walking and maturing.  I recoiled from accepting what today is for me a most magnificent gift. Several years later I see it clearly that roads which should have diverged have brought us closer together. Those years have been invaluable, giving us time to get our bearings on the complicated map of signs and signals. It must be so. ... after all, I dreamed of throwing a bridge".

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