a scene in the south of France
a scene in the south of France. Photo: Kristin Espinasse

Now is a time to sit and listen. I try to ignore the temptation to go upstairs and work on the computer. Email can wait. So can senseless surfing. This is where I need to be: facing my belle-mère, listening. As for the internet, it can be a black hole into which I can throw every “spare” minute. I don’t want black holes. I want fountains of light. Presently I see them in my mother-in-law’s eyes.

If I look closely, aligning my pupils with hers, then, more than light, I see the very fires of her soul. Heat enough to purify my own pathetic wanderings until I am back on track, engaging in life.

I train my eyes on the 71-year-old speaker. Keep focused! None of this nervous glancing around the kitchen to dwell on yet another dusty distraction.The dust will always win, winning our very bodies in the end!

Lifesavers. She is talking about lifesavers…

Elles sont mes bouées de sauvetage.” “They are my lifeline,” my mother-in-law is explaining. And I hear, once again, about the wonderful women in her life. The selfless “sisters” who check in with her twice a week.

Elles sont tellement occupées… mais elles sont toujours là pour moi.” “They are so busy… yet they are always there for me.” I hear about her dear friends Katherine and Eliane: two French women who are, to my mother-in-law, veritable heroines.

Their relationship skirts the boundaries of “race” and religion (my mother-in-law is a proud “pied-noir” and an unconvertible atheist). Her “angels” are evangelical but my belle-mère doesn’t mind, just as long as they don’t preach to her.

Et qu’est-ce qu’on se marre! On se marre comme des petites vieilles!” “Oh, and how we laugh! We laugh like little old women!” With that, my mother-in-law’s eyes twinkle like sunlit drops from the Fountain of Youth.

She is laughing now, her heart 200 kilometres away, back home in Marseille, where her angels are gathered with their own families. After a few more chuckles of appreciation for her friends, I watch her reach up to clasp her upper arm. Her shoulder is hurting her again; her laughing trails off and her mind returns to the present, where pain tortures her limbs.

My own heart is now light years away from the internet. I reach over to rub her back. I do not know whether she really likes this outreached hand on her back, but I am learning as I go.

French Vocabulary

la bouée de sauvetage = lifesaver, lifebelt

la belle-mère = mother-in-law

le pied-noir = a “black foot” (a North African-born French woman or man)

From France Today magazine

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