This morning the gentle chimes of the grandfather clock purchased years ago by my wife, reminded me, as it always does, of the many blessings that have enriched my life since the day I got married.
As a shiftless bachelor, I never devoted much thought to the places that I lived; they were merely utilitarian dwellings, furnished as required with chairs to sit in and shelves to hold books on, tables nearby to handle overflow (and feet) when relaxing after a hard day’s work. The alarm clock near my bed would serve as the timepiece for my apartment, with the shrill buzz of its alarm sounding the only times that my single life needed to know: when to wake up to go to work.
Now, in addition to the grandfather clock, I live with color-coded bookshelves lined with charming figurines and glass plates as well as the books for my hobbies and trade, alongside walls with family photos on them, each thoughtfully framed and placed "just so" [he says as he pinches his fingers]. Nooks and crannies that I barely acknowledged before, are now filled with "objects d’art", as the French would say, to please the eye wherever it may wander as it rests upon each room and hallway. More than just furnishings, now I live with decor, ornaments that enliven our home, elevating it far above the mere utilitarian status I used to settle for, before my wife and I committed to this new life together.
Like all such adornments, before they arrive we act as if they should not be needed. Now that they are here, we can recognise that they make all the difference in the world, and are desperately needed indeed, for they help shape a house into a home, and make a life more worth living.
It is a similar instinct to elevate life and fill it with meaning, and consequently with dignity, that I associate with the France of old. Isn’t it intriguing how habitually we english dip into the french language whenever we wish to raise the perceived value of a detail in our lives… we don’t just eat cooking, we dine on cuisine; some achievement is not just the first, it’s the premiere, or debut; as prisoners we don’t just offer our word for good conduct, we act on our parole; not just a celebration, but a gala. And on it goes, each substitution offering an elevation of status, an endowment of greater meaning. More sacred. More human.
So what to make of the France of today? Not feeling the need for daily bathing, not taking pride in hard work, shunting aside the responsibility of either raising young children or taking care of elderly parents, la France reminds me of the hollow joie-de-vivre that can curse humanity when it sees itself too narrowly as mere animal, sheepishly grazing upon the green fields of Earth.
The esprit-de-corps that asserts itself with the embrace of something greater than ourselves, is daily vanishing as France severs its ties with its church, its identity, and consequently its history. Breaking its ties to its past, France has stripped itself of reasons to rise higher than its past, denying itself both the ability and the duty to recover past glory. Today, to say something or someone is like the french is to say it is less sacred, possessing less value… the exact opposite of the oeuvre French culture used to be known for.
I personally look at France and see an analogy for the frightening future that may have been my fate, had I not maintained the self-discipline that made me attractive to the grande dame who became my wife. France is a notably scruffy bachelor needing to make itself attractive for a mate if it is to continue its civilization.
I humbly recommend a reconciliation with the partner it spurned in a previous generation; you had a good thing going, until you forgot the incessant act of faith that is required in preserving any valuable relationship. The forgotten secret is that this act of faith must precede the relationship, since it is belief in the possibility of progress, that spurs the first act of improvement, and continues their ongoing succession.
First you make yourself worth marrying, then you can find someone to marry you.
By adopting too limited a view of your world, you have ended up only living in the present, forgetting where you’ve come from and how hard it had been to reach there. You stopped trusting both yourself and your partner; look where that loss of faith has gotten you.
The few bells that still toll across the Seine echo throughout a France with a culture not just in rubble; it is in debris, which is more than just a pity for western civilization, it is a catastrophe.
If the French make the wrong choice in their 2007 presidential election, it won’t be just goodbye to its glorious heritage, it will also be adieu to a small piece of who we have been, as civilized North Americans. We’ll need to cast about for another language to use when we wish to speak of the nobler side of the human experience, of the instinct to see an unseen sacredness within our lives.
We’ll need to find another France, to make up for the one that’s passe.
NOTE: My wife astutely pointed out that many people will probably not be aware of Saint Vincent de Paul, who makes a brief appearance in my video. His admirable contribution to France’s past glory may be read here.