The French Heart

Dave writing again. As you know, Stasha tries to use this blog to post some of the most interesting - and hopefully funny - things that happen to us as part of this experience. There has been much to talk about.

But life is instead sometimes tragic and that is the case in our family this week. Since many that read this blog are already aware of what has happened, and those that don't know may soon find out anyway, it seems that the right thing is to be up front about what has happened and then try to move on as much as is possible.

My younger brother has twin boys that are nearly 18 months old. A few days ago, without anyone noticing, they went into an upstairs bathroom, climbed into a tub and turned on the water. We don't really know what happened, except that they drowned within a few minutes, and both boys died yesterday morning [Update: You can read more details here, in the Washington Post].

This could happen to anyone.

There is no point in trying to describe the anguish in my family at this time, and particularly for my brother and his wife Melinda. I am deeply affected by this, and yesterday explained to several friends why I must suddenly return to the United States. Though Stasha and I told few people, the word got around quickly. The response has further opened our eyes to the people that surround us.

Sophie's teacher at school, Madame Brigitte, found us after school yesterday to say she had been thinking of our family all day. Lawrence, the mother of one of Sophie and Sam's friends came up to me with tears in her eyes and said "my heart is with your sister-in-law and your brother". Another friend, Stephanie’s husband Pierre, called from Marrakesh, Morocco where he often works, to relay his deep sympathy to Paul and to my sister-in-law. And this morning I received the below from the Decemmes, who (you may remember from an earlier posting) we went hiking with a few weeks ago. Chris Decemme is the artist of the painting you see at the top of this post. It hangs in the house here in Mougins. She learned to paint in her late 60’s.

Nous sommes très tristes du drame que votre famille subit en ce moment. Nous prenons part a votre grande peine et vous souhaitons beaucoup de courage , ainsi que a la famille de votre frere, c’est vraiment horrible. Nous vous embrassons de tout coeur. Chris & Paul

We are extremely saddened to hear of the tragedy that your family must suddenly endure at this time. We extend to you our greatest sympathies and hope that you may have great courage, as well as to your brother and his family, for which this is a horrible tragedy. We embrace you with all our hearts.

This is typical of the kind of people that live near us. Just like in the United States.

In the end, the joy of life is determined not by where we live or what god we believe in but by the quality of our relationships with the people that surround us. Each of us may spend our lives emphasizing the differences between us and others, or we can embrace those small differences and also find joy in the endless similarities that exist between us and those we live among, whether in our neighborhood or on this planet. Focusing on those similarities brings great happiness into others’ lives, as they feel embraced by the acceptance that is imparted to them, and respond in kind. The French have treated us this way from the moment we have arrived and we have responded. We will not forget it.

If you want to express sympathies to my brother and/or his wife, please post a comment below and I will forward it to him. The most touching expressions of sympathy often come from people we don’t know, because it further humanizes those we might otherwise dismiss as faceless. And it reminds us that we are all the same, no matter how hard distance, language, culture and religion may try to teach us otherwise.

I suspect that after this weekend we will try to get back on track with normal updates. There are so many beautiful things that happen here; perhaps the quickest way back to happiness is to focus on them. We'll try to do that.

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Anonymous Michelle Thurgood said...

This is such a trajically sad event and so scary because like you said, "This could happen to anyone." As we give our children some extra love and try to watch them so carefully we will think of your dear brother Paul and his wife and pray for them. We cannot express how deeply this has touched our hearts and has made us so especially greatful for our own little ones.

Blogger Janae said...

To focus on something happy... I would like to comment on this painting. I'm totally drawn in by it's coloring, and I think it's stunning. My compliments to the artist.

Blogger TropicGirl said...

Hi. I just found your blog. I'm not even sure how. I've been reading about your year in France; I started from the beginning and just arrived at this post. I'm so sorry to hear about your family tragedy. I know that this is now nearly a year after the fact, but still, I'm sure you think about it so I'm sorry for your loss.
I'm loving your blog, since I'm an expat living in Argentina. Now back to reading.....


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