Imitation of Christ

The persisting influence of  The Imitation of Christ.

In 1962, 11-year-old Carlos Eire was one of thousands of children airlifted out of Cuba and sent to Florida to escape Fidel Castro’s regime. His parents thought he would be back as soon as Castro was deposed.

But Eire never returned home. Shortly after he arrived in the United States, the Cuban missile crisis shut down Cuba’s borders, and his parents were unable to leave the country. For the next several years, Eire would be shuffled between foster families around the country before joining his aunt and uncle in Chicago.

Now a professor of history and religious studies at Yale, Eire tells Terry Gross how a religious book his parents gave him just before he left Cuba made a lasting impression on him. The book, Imitation of Christ, was written by a 15th-century monk and is about accepting suffering and letting go of the idea that one has control over his or her life.

“It’s the last book in the world a 12-year-old boy wants to read, but I very quickly outgrew my clothes, so the only two reminders I had of my family physically were a religious medal I wore around my neck and this book,” he says. “And there’s a Catholic superstition where if you have a question and open that book at random, the answer will be on that page.”

When he was 14, Eire says, the book started making sense to him.

“The book allowed me to let go of my past. It allowed me not to fix my gaze on what I had lost but rather to be happy that I had lost,” he says. “To take my exile as a gift — to not focus on how I could reclaim my place in the social hierarchy, but rather just to devote myself to reading about my religion, learning how to live it, and then, once I got this idea in my head that my profession was going to be teaching, that’s what I considered my vocation.”


Carlos Eire leaving Cuba


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