The man with the red guitar

I’ve debated whether to write this story or not, simply because I don’t want people to get me wrong. It’s one of my struggles in life to be misunderstood. It’s why more often than not I stay silent. It’s probably for that exact reason that I prefer taking pictures and let them speak for me.

But here goes…

It’s a Wednesday night as I walk into the metro station with my girls. A friendly looking man with a red guitar passes the ticket gates at the same time as us. I love music and have a great appreciation for everyone making music instead of leaving that dream in a sealed box like I have; I smile at him and move on.

We walk onto the platform to wait for the metro. The man stops and stands right next to us. I figure he noticed my smile and wants to talk for a bit, after all Paris can be quite lonely at times. What happens next is not what I expected.

In the blink of an eye I see him lift his guitar in an attempt to slap me with it. He starts ranting: “Vous les blancs!” (You white people!). My initial reaction is shock. Wasn’t I just being nice to him? How is it that I deserve this kind of treatment? At the same time, I realize it’s not me, I have never seen this man before. His anger came before me and I just sparked it in that moment. My fear leaves my body. I’m trying to hear what he’s saying. I want to listen to his story, because I’ve learned over time that one of the most important things in life is being heard.

While trying to make conversation he lifts his guitar again. As he tries to hit me a second time I feel a hand on my arm and hear one of my girls say that her sister is crying from fear of me getting hurt. I had completely forgotten about my girls being there with me and as much as I want to hear this man’s story, the priority I have is with my kids. I move back into mom mode. I look at the man and tell him: “Stop! I hear your anger, but it’s unacceptable to scare my kids. They are too young; they don’t need this fear.”

It’s with those words that he snaps out of it. He too becomes calm, looks at me and my kids and apologizes profusely. We shake hands and get on different parts of the metro.

A couple of days later I see him again; asleep at the feet of Edith Piaf.

“Entre tes bras, dans le calme des nuits,
J’ai tant besoin d’oublier tout ce bruit !
Délivre-moi de l’enfer de cette vie…
Fais-moi mon coin de paradis…” ~ Edith Piaf

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“Look for the helpers”

I’ve just finished reading an article about vicarious trauma by Annie Wright and am actually still feeling this all through as I write…

Vicarious trauma and the subsequent grief for the state of the world we live in; it’s definitely something I’m very sensitive too. It’s for that reason that I keep following news outlets to a minimum and will hide posts in my Facebook feed.

But even when I do that, I can’t really get away from reality, nor should I.

Yesterday my girls and I went to the yearly event Paris Plage. An afternoon out and about on a makeshift beach in the center of town. Unfortunately the state of the world is such that the entrance is guarded and soldiers are on patrol, as you can maybe make out in the picture.

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The soldiers being there doesn’t really give me a sense of security. To me they are more a reminder of what may happen any time we go out anywhere in the world these days.

Of course I can let that get to me and live in fear, or I can go with the words of Mr Rogers – “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

As much as that may sound like I’m keeping myself naive, I’m mostly keeping myself open to meeting good people, the helpers.

After visiting Paris Plage we hopped on the metro back home and met Fran. Fran is most definitely a helper. He sang his heart out, kept cracking jokes at people, reaching out to touch hearts.

DSCF8960AI have a lot of respect for people like Fran and I wanted him to know. Now really, I’m not someone to just walk up to a stranger and say: “I have so much respect for you”, but I did. What followed was a most awesome discussion…

Thanks Fran, you may have just convinced me to do that more often, after all you can’t go wrong with being a helper!

Free hugs II

A gloomy grey Saturday afternoon and a mood that can measure up to that easily. I decide to go out with my camera, because taking pictures is always a good way to pause and get back to the right mind frame. (Did you see what I did there?)

Unfortunately I find no real magic today. Maybe I just need a nap instead…

On my way back home I bump into a group of young men offering free hugs. I decide to hang around and watch them hug for a bit.

It’s interesting to me to observe the different reactions from people. I put away my camera and just sit there…

One of the hugs simply stands out. it’s a hug offered to a tall broad guy. The guy accepts the hug and spontaneously lifts the hugger off the floor.

My heart sings at the sight of this outburst of human kindness… Oh JOY, there you are!!!

Now tell me: What makes you want to dive into a big hug or what makes you refuse?

Our neighbor Oleg

How many people do we walk by day in and day out without ever knowing anything about them?

If we pay attention we will come to recognize some of them. We may even exchange a smile and a good day, but we don’t really know anything about them.

That’s what happened with Oleg, the tall blond man that lived in a tent at the foot of my building. Until one day the tent was gone…

It’s 11 in the morning as I find myself standing with about 20 others around the tree at the corner of my street. The place where the tent used to be, but where pictures, flowers and candles now remind us.

I don’t know anyone of the people I’m standing with, yet we’re all connected in this very moment. Simply because we’re all here for the same reason, to say goodbye to Oleg.

When the tent was first gone, at the end of December, I hoped with all of my heart that Oleg had found a better place to live. This is a sentiment I hear echoed from the people that surround me. We all hoped…

But unfortunately, Oleg died in a Paris hospital at the end of January.

He’ll be missed, because Oleg was more than just the homeless man that lived in our neighborhood for the past 8 years.

The words that I hear being used to describe Oleg this morning are kind, friendly, a lover of books, a beautiful smile, graceful….

And graceful he was. Before fleeing the political regime of his home country Oleg was a ballet dancer at the opera.

Despite his success he fled his country to live a life of freedom.

In my eyes his choice for freedom is perfectly displayed in the way he took responsibility for his life. He made the best of it with all he had.

And with his life he changed a neighborhood. He touched us all and leaves an empty spot in our hearts and on the corner of our street.

Thank you Oleg… Farewell!

A story like a prayer

WP_20141124_005AIn one of my recent stories I talked about asking for help and how I find that to be hard. The other side, offering help, is hard for me too. Not when it comes to family and friends, but neighbors and acquaintances are a different story as long as I’m not really invited into their life yet.

Last Thursday I wrote a story about a cute little boy and his family and how I wish I could do more for him than just keep an eye out for him on a distance and showing my kindness to his family.

I had finished the first part of the story, but I didn’t have a satisfying end yet. I didn’t because I had no answer as to how to help him and his family after having tried for a while.

So at the same time as I hoped that telling the story on my blog and drawing attention to their situation would help me find the answer, I felt that the story I was about to post was maybe too private to share. I hesitated greatly in great frustration. Was the answer even out there?

I know now, but didn’t want to accept it then, that sometimes allowing time to pass is a good thing. Looking back at it, I now realize that my story was like a prayer more than anything.

And you know what? My prayer got answered.

That same Thursday night the family showed me for the very first time that they want my help; they have invited me to be part of their life.  We’re connecting in small doses.

This means that I can’t share the original story. I don’t want to risk breaking what little trust I have with them for now.

What I can do however is tell you that kindness does pay off. Sometimes you just need a good dose of patience for things to finally start happening.

Be kind, and then be kind some more… And don’t stop believing!!!