Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cold days, warm hearts

So what did I do on Christmas? I joined my husband's family for a big dinner – 19 of us in total. The young people did a great job of decorating the table and serving the food. My father-in-law (previously described in "Smooth Stones, Shiny Stones") remains in a mental cocoon of Alzheimer's, but he was affectionately cared for by all of us and seemed to be happy. After dinner when the group played a game together, Pierre walked around the table, watching us. He was like a friendly silent planet, circling the sun of family warmth and activity. The two youngest members of the family, aged 2 and 8 months, were the center of loving attention too.

I have two special memories from this holiday time. One afternoon while I was staying with my in-laws, I felt very tired from all the celebration took a short siesta. When I woke up, my mother-in-law Jeannine was sitting on the bed, smiling at me. She gently touched my face and asked if I was OK. She was concerned, because in France, to say you are fatigué (tired) can also mean that you are depressed. What we said was not important, for me it was her motherly warmth and caring that touched my heart. This gentle woman made me happy, made me cry, and made me feel loved.

At the end of the holiday celebration, all of us said goodbyes and prepared to leave. Of course it was still freezing outside (literally -3 C). The wind rattled the branches of the bare trees and sun was starting to set, but the sky was still blue and clear. Then Gwenelle, a woman in the family, ran up to me to give a final goodbye. I expected a bisous on my cheeks, an airy, lightly impersonal French social kiss.

Imagine my surprise to get a hug – something that isn't very typical in France. I grew up in a culture where hugs are typical, so I like hugs a lot! I returned the hug and it was a good one – I could feel the energy exchange and emotion. When I looked at Gwenelle's face she looked vulnerable, happy and energized, all at the same time. In my mind, I can still see her face framed against the cold sky and feel the echo of her hug.

It's still cold outside, but I'm warm inside. In 2009 may the light of love warm your heart too.