Something you may not know about me is that my first job out of college was in a boarding school where I taught French (and coached lacrosse – boo-YAH!). Ready for another colassal surprise? Very few of the teenagers had any interest in learning French.
I know, it’s a shocker.
Which was truly okay, because as much as I love French unless your curriculum is steeped in sex, drugs and rock n roll, good luck holding the attenton of the 14-18 year old set. So, I taught as much else as I could slip in there under the auspices of learning French.
With the express purpose of helping them understand how utterly absurd it is to see another human being as anything but part of our own family of human beingness, we watched two films every year, every class: Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources.
Seeing as these are both based on a novel by Marcel Pagnol (L’eau des Collines) published in the 1960s (and the films themselves are from the late 80s) I’m gonna go ahead and share the plot details.
Consider that your spoiler alert.
The story takes place in a small village that is so small, someone from another village is an outsider, a foreigner, someone to be distrusted.
Forget that they live mere miles apart, speak the same language, follow the same religion. Crazypants, right?
Central to the tale is a rather nasty example of an old man – Papet, who is greedy, bitter, manipulative and utterly without remorse for his role in a man’s death. With the help of his nephew, Papet sets about the destruction of a man, Jean de Florette, who has inherited property that Papet wants.
It’s a long, beautiful, haunting tale that spreads over two long films. I recommend you watch them both, but as I don’t have time for all that here let me summarize.
The upshot is that Papet tortures and ultimately causes the death of this bright spirited, loving, optimistic man.
And, in destroying Jean de Florette, Papet also destroys the sweet family that Jean de Florette had created.
His wife and daughter, Manon leave the village.
Manon returns years later, an extraordinarily beautiful woman that Papet wants for his nephew.
Turns out? Manon knows what Papet and the nephew did and despises them beyond all measure.
Then, during a chance enconter with an old blind woman, Papet learns that Jean de Florette was his own son.
He sees that he methodically, intentionally destroyed his own child.
Jean was the lovechild of a wild night between Papet and his beloved, Florette – the love of his life – on the eve of his departure to the war. When Papet returned from war, Florence was gone. She had married a man in another village. Hence the bitterness, the heartbreak, the disillusion.
Papet thought she abandoned him and didn’t care about him. He never knew that she was pregnant, could not prove he was the father so married a man from another village to save her honor.
Misery, pain, suffering and sorrow – all for wont of some clear communication.
Why am I sharing all this today?
Because the world continues to be at war and you can think it is all out there– some other country– but I challenge you to look at how you are at war with people around you, with your own self as I wrote here: the long and the short.
This week heralds my most favorite holiday of the year: Thanksgiving. A time for us to come together as a family.
When the day comes that we can see we are all one family, that we are all connected, that our bitterness, hatred, suffering and despair is based in a lack of understanding and communication – a better world can be brought into being.
What can any one of us do in the face of such enormous conflict and confusion?
In my opinion, if we are going to find our way back to the light, it has to begin with us.
And sitting in a circle around a fire, breaking bread and sharing stories, is a good place to start.
P.S. This song was playing as I typed this.