Our bus is tiny by American standards. It barely fits seven ORU students, a chaperone and a tour guide. Here we are though, packed in like awe-struck sardines, rolling down the coast of Normandy. The beauty here is different than in Paris. The palace of Versailles, with its soaring tower peaks, hardly compares to these waves that lap against the shore like a thirsty dog and fields dotted with French cows and tiny white cottages.
I was going to write this article about the condition of the church in France, and then I was going to write it about the sacrifice thousands of men made on the blood-soaked shores of Normandy for the sake of freedom on D-Day. But I decided to write about a person—one who deserves to be written about, just like the brave souls who fought for liberty deserve the tears we shed. Her name is Gaelle, and she’s our “house-mother,” a former-nun who watches over us with the compassion of a mother but the smile of that cool aunt everyone wishes they had.
Gaelle didn’t talk a lot at first, maybe because of her limited English and our poor French. She didn’t need to. Her eyes speak volumes about life and love, and she makes each one of us feel like the most important person in France. She cooks us crepes and corrects our French and says that we are the “best team ever.”
Gaelle has seen more than her lively eyes betray, more than I will probably ever know.
“I’ve seen much suffering,” she said quietly just the other night as we huddled around the dining room table. We were honored to be able to hear just a few of her stories.
Gaelle, an extensive traveler during her time in the Roman Catholic church, did missions work in Haiti. She was there during an earthquake, and her voice cracked as she told us of people who had walked out before her and been crushed by falling bricks. She was there as they pulled broken bodies out of the dust and as broken spirits fell to their knees in grief.
“There is light. Always light, even when the darkness is great, even when it is overwhelming,” Gaelle said to us. “The light is always there; you just have to find it.”
She was a nun who worked with young people for twenty years. She felt God, but she yearned for more. She admitted that she was a bit of a rebel, always stretching the sisters’ rules and falling asleep during the priest’s messages. She visited an evangelical church in an effort to see what was drawing so many young people. In the process, she was drawn herself, and she subsequently met the pastor of Martin Luther King church. MLK church partnered with ORU to bring us to France, and here all of us are. The whole world may not know her name, but those who do have been impacted by it. I pray that I can live my life with the kind of love she does. I also pray that I can be as sharply witty as her. French people have the best humor.
I think that someday when we glance out the rearview mirror of our life, people will be the greatest of all the adventures we have sought. From a soldier to a shopkeeper, you never know where you might find a hero. I found one in apartment 14, and I’ll never be quite the same because of her.