Importance of Friends:
I don’t remember when I first heard the expression, “It’s hard to be your own eyes.” But I remember realizing at the time that there was an important truth in the proverb. The observer can’t simultaneously be the observed object. The best one can do is notice how choices and values change over time.
Now that I’ve been in France for six months, I can look back and see some of the ways I’ve changed.
Immune System Is Recovering Slowly
For sure, the accumulated stress from taking care of my husband for his final years has begun to lessen. I had no idea that caregiving stress could be so destructive to one’s health. Nor did I know what bad shape I was in when I arrived.
I enjoyed taking care of my husband. He was a very sweet man and consistently appreciative of even the smallest act on my part. Still, by the time I got to France, my immune system wasn’t functioning well. One infection morphed into another into another.
As I’ve become more rested, my health has dramatically improved. Drugs prescribed by my U.S. doctors have been reduced by two-thirds. My energy, zest and enthusiasm for what I might yet accomplish has returned.
Looking back, I can see that healing and restoring my body to its natural good health has been a gradual and transformational change.
Time for Me
If I could have, I would have willed my husband to live longer. But that wasn’t to be. So, I try not to feel guilty about my load being lightened. I do, however, feel a bit selfish when I get up each day and realize I can do what I want. It seems to be such a luxury.
But it also requires me to fill my days. Where should I begin? What are my priorities?
I needn’t have worried. Between writing, studying French, reading, sewing, traveling and socializing, I have plenty to keep me busy. To paraphrase John Clarke, a 17th century writer, no one is busier than the person who has nothing to do. That’s me!
Time for Others
I think it is either impossible—or at least really difficult—to be a recluse here in France. I am constantly meeting neighbors when I go outside, and nothing will do except that I stop and chat. If my neighbor doesn’t speak English, I have to speak in my primitive French. But in any case, I can’t simply walk by and ignore the person’s greeting.
This acknowledgement of another human being also extends to service personnel, whether it is a bus driver or a clerk in a store. Until now, I didn’t realize that I treated service personnel as if they were automatons without needs, wants and personalities. They were simply there to serve the public. And I was Jane Q public. Not so, anymore.
Nowhere does the “time for others” theme seem stronger than at mealtime. Although it may not break any French law to eat alone, it seems as if it is forbidden. In the six months since I arrived, I can count all the meals I’ve eaten alone on two hands without even using my toes. Eating, like so much here in France, is a social occasion.
Importance of Friends
I’ve also realized the importance of friends—both old and new. Because of the eight-hour time difference between California and France, a phone call or zoom time usually needs to be scheduled. Calling friends and relatives in the Midwest or East Coast is a bit easier but still requires planning.
Thanks to the French phone service, I can call internationally at no charge. Plus, I can also email. Sometimes I use “What’sApp,” a free computer application that allows users to text or call internationally without charges on the other end.
I’ve also made a point to make new friends. One is a professor emeritus in the field of education at the University of Medeillin in Columbia. She lives the majority of her time her. Like me, she is an immigrant so we have fun exploring the city together.
Other friends are my age, and some friends are my junior by decades. One friend is seven-years old. I’m teaching her English, and she’s teaching me French. Having a range of ages in friends keeps me from getting stuck in my own time warp.
More Changes Coming
I’m sure in the months ahead, I’ll have changed even more. Some of the influences triggering my different behavior, attitudes and habits are noticeable; others are more subtle. But for sure, change will be a constant from now on.