Letter to my parents

I would like to read to you this evening, a letter that a son wrote to his immigrant parents in their twilight years.

I would like to thank you for my life. It is wonderful and glorious to be alive in this latter part of the 20th century traveling on space ship earth moving away into a totally new orbit. I have been back to the launching pad of the spaceship back in those quiet and now green hills of the Appenines of central Italy.

The last fifty years or so have changed the scenery totally. My first trip allowed me to see the scarred landscape burnt from the heat of the blast off. Your population explosion forced you to cut down the trees to make charcoal for sale in the town. You were the first generation to do this. Why were you the first generation? Because suddenly the greatest gift that can come in any one’s way is that children did not die.

Why did you leave the known for the unknown? You were forced to leave because you had cut down most of the forest to the point that the eleven children who made up your family could no longer live on the small resources at hand. This came from the great victory of life over death. Clean water, hygiene, modern medicine all contributed to infants not dying so the centuries old village died when you left for Canada.

How difficult it must have been for you to leave the known, your friends, your parents and get on ship that you had never seen or even imagined? It makes the present spaceship travel look like so much child play, yet you were forced to leave how difficult it must have been to leave the known for the unknown! How difficult it is to say goodbye to parents and friends knowing that you would never see Them again. Your courage showed in your tears yet you had to leave for yourself and your parents. I remember well every month when you wrote a letter back home ( how you pained over the letter as you made sure that you remembered to give your regards to all those you loved. I remember my sense of industrial efficiency.”

“Why do you spend so much time making sure that you remember every one, it
would just as easy to write” regards to all my friends,” she would say “no son if I do not remember their names, it means that I am forgetting them.”) Father left in 1913 and he never returned to Italy. My mother left in 1923 and did return for a visit in 1975. She insisted on walking down the mountain on a small path with leading to her village near the brook with its music calling all to rejoice, my mother’s return. The village with its four houses is now bereft of life except for the brook cutting through granite.

Beside the music of the brook, the only living thing was the fig tree which was still producing the sweetest fruit possible. Yet there was no one to eat its beautiful taste. Even in death nature protects her beauty.

This movement of people from the known to the unknown continues today. Every village is under the sentence of death thanks to the swift decrease of infant mortality. It was the incredible gift of children not dying that forced people from the known into the unknown. The tears that accompanied the burying of infants now had become the tears of leaving the known for the unknown. What happened in the mountains of central Italy, also was happening in the hills of
Scotland and in the steppes of Poland and is now happening in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Mothers are still crying only now they cry when the children are forced out of the villages and must search a living in far away cities.

Slowly but surely, in the next thirty years all your brothers and sisters left the village to come to the city. Now the village is again guardian of the new forests which are green as ever. The scars of the blast off have disappeared into history.

What you saw as hopeful, most now despairingly call the human explosion
and wait for doomsday. These purveyors of despair, either cannot see or cannot hear what is really happening beyond and within the human spirit. As important as statistics may be, what is happening behind these abstract figures, far more
important is what is happening in the human spirit. For it is in the depths of the human spirit that the game of life is being played. This game is for real and can be seen by only those believe that something is happening.

One cannot quantify or even measure the virtue of hope yet one knows when they try to understand ordinary villagers becoming city folk. They still pretend that what happened to them over the last century is not being replayed today in the exodus from the villages of the world.

How swiftly do we forget our take off from the village space station to move into another orbit. What happened in the west is now happening in the rest of the world. Once we not only accepted the courage of our parents to leave the known and move into the unknown, will we really understand what is happening in the depths of the billions who are now undertaking the same historic trek of my parents in the Third World.

Instead of the incredible noise of the power of a space craft leaving its home on earth to move into space, indeed, the very silence of the villagers leaving their villages for the city (deep down in their spirits they believed that they would return to their village for this was their eternal home). What they did not realize then was there was no going back. The village space station would be rubbed
out of history. How many astronauts would willing go to the Moon and beyond if they were told that there was no coming back. So the villagers left thinking that they were coming back but they never came back.

Yet hidden in this incredible scheme of things that had the ingredients of a bolt of lightning. Suddenly the fatalism of the village was overcome by a deep faith of believing that life on earth or village was temporary. Their permanent home was heaven or space or whatever. The village was temporary on the way to heaven. Suddenly with a clap of thunder that follows lightning. You were moved from a dull fatalism lived in joy to the great possibilities of the city.

I remember well the day that I came home from school and I wrote the family name Maione on a paper before my dad. For me, it was normal for my father who could neither read or write, it was a miracle. Mother who had two years of schooling in her village (she came from part of the papal states who had introduced schooling before my dad’s area). These village schools has been started in the early 1900s so she did all the letter writing and budgeting. My dad died with ever knowing what his financial situation as my mother looked after the
finances. She did teach my dad how to read and also to sign his name.

This incredible hope of the villagers was given to their children. Their message was that they could become and must become more than their parents. The tragedy was that this incredible generosity of giving life was translated by many of the children by looking down on their parents. What we did not know at that time was that this attitude was moving us away into a new world but away from the hope, love and determination of our village parents. Without even thinking
about why they had moved away from their village culture and into a world where we had to build up our own new global culture. Unfortunately, the rejection of the culture of our parents has moved us into the dread and deadly illness of alienation.

The fatalistic village mind like a bolt of lightning or with a blink of an eye dissolved the village fatalism and embraced modern alienation. I remember returning to my father’s village where my only uncle who did not make it to America was working on a farm. He insisted that I should visit the “padrone.” Farming even in the 50s in Italy was still a feudal operation at least in my father’s village (my mothers village was made of small land owners). I remember my uncle
practically genuflecting and then kissing the hand of the plantation owner. My uncle was literally a satellite in orbit of the owner who was exploiting him no end.

This reality of my father’s village has to be contrasted with the village in the city in which my dad lived. I contrast this event with my dad coming home one night and telling us that “today is a great day” a union was voted in at the railroad in which he worked for 45 years as an “ashpitman” dumping the fire when the steam engines came back from their runs. Then we was promoted to “lighter up” man
who prepared the wood and coal for the next trip of the engine. Finally, he was promoted to be the “turn table operator” who would put the engine on a turn table and move in and out the shop track where it was to be serviced for its next trip.

This contributed to the phenomena of becoming a person who could negotiate
with power. During the high days of Martin Luther King, I will always remember seeing a black worker parade and a worker had a sign saying simply and yet so powerful “I am a man.”

This incredible act of faith to believe in one’s importance is now sweeping the world. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for the elites to know what is really happening the depths of ordinary people. Even The Churches who are supposed to be the guardian of the spirit have difficulty to understand the depths of the spiritual revolution. Some of the so-called progressive religious leaders have
nearly caught up with villager-worker world by starting to talk about social analysis. Unfortunately accelerated history has passed them by. Although workers celebrated when The Churches came out with their social letters. But one must remember that away before the Churches were discovering the social problem, the workers had discovered the kernel of the social analysis. ”I am important.” Now it is a new culture that is launched with a seed of faith that must be
analyzed.

I remember talking to my dad about this and he said to me: “well: I am happy that you are starting to see the real problems but all this talk about the international world with its economics and cultural problems is all beyond me. You must admit that we have come a long way. You went to school I did not. So you will have to face the new challenges.” When one discovers his own dignity he discovers his
own humanity. When one discovers that “I am a man” one is no longer an alien. For an alien has nothing at his center. He is nothing, so nothing is at the center of creation. It is this primitive act of faith that gives meaning to oneself and the whole of the universe. Without this meaning which is the great act of faith, there is no hope for building up a new civilization from the present barbarism.

The Church insists on evangelization as her major task. Yet how does one
evangelize those who are not expecting anything of anyone to give them a meaning to life. When we lived in the cocoon of a Christian culture, evangelization was a no-no word. The Church has still the seed of salvation but unfortunately she does not act like the good farmer who must test the land and work it before planting the seed.

Before working the land, the land could not digest the seed so as to give new life. Today in the post industrial world, the seed is ever more powerful but the land must be worked so that the seed of love who is god can work to accomplish creation. Unless, we remain rooted in this new and powerful force that is moving spaceship earth to a rendez-vous with the whole universe, we shall be but cut flowers in a vase, beautiful for a time, like aunt sally in the funeral parlor. Then her sister can well say “she looks better now than when she was alive.”

Unless we believe that the increasing multitude will join the conscious human race with hope in the future, the despair of those perched on the mountain edge of a new society will lead them into a dead end. The only way then to keep despair on the ledge is to “pray, drink and be merry” and hope that despair will not be able to penetrate the shroud of living death. We are presently at that point of despair and we are even losing the power to shred the shroud of the death of
the spirit.

The task of living in a world embraced by despair is not easy. For if one is to become a real person one must learn how to move away from despair. The unknown is always fearful and full of insecurity. Once you leave the village, you are on your own. You can still live in a village which has been miraculously been moved to a city but your village culture that gave meaning to your life is dead.

You have to learn a new language, another type of work and a thousand other things. You are made to feel inferior and clumsy by the urban world. YOU sacrificed beyond belief to assure that we become more educated than you and how many of us started to look down upon you.


The future always tends to look down on the past as passe instead of knowing that new life is always rooted in the efforts of the past. Our modern post agriculture culture is fast forgetting that the fruit on the tree should never despise the tree that gives it life.

All the learning of this world cannot abolish the insecurity and fear of the unknown. This fear takes root in the person moving from the known to the unknown. Modern medicine is discovering how to bring children into the world without pain to the mother. The trick is supposed to reside with the mother relaxing and allowing the baby to enter the world without pain. As my wife used to say easy for the husband. Yet it is true that if we relax, the future will be born without pain.

Unfortunately modern society is based on the use of people not for their
development but rather to use their production and so the reality is born that a person is just a number that is to be used to make profits. All the material profits does not increase the dignity and importance of people rather it delivers them to nothingness. People are made to feel inferior to the system. It is this very inferiority that forces a person to start believing in his very nothingness. And
so the weak of our society, the welfare recipient, the unemployed, the lame and the blind are made to feel inferior. The gospel of the good news has now become the gospel of bad news. Remember you are nothing and what you produce is more important than you. This is the central message of the modern so-called civilization which is the wrong word as how can one be civil if the civilization is not civil.

Yet the ‘I am’ of the black unionist soon turns into black power. The union that you helped to start had a tough time to be born, it had to avoid abortion, infanticide and the ever present threat of becoming a satellite of the company. The world seems to fear new life and puts up a struggle against it. New life always tends to disrupt the status quo. So one must bury the present death culture and get on with the development of a new culture, a universal industrial culture which
hopefully will not only give new life but give it more abundantly.

Romeo Maione

1980 edited 2001


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