I can’t expect people to believe these things happened. I myself find the stories pretty hard to swallow. But not only would most doubt their reality; they are probably devoid of interest to anyone but myself. So why tell you about them ? To get you to realize that your life too has had its special moments – of joy, of sorrow, of terror, of bewilderment, of the unexpected, of the almost unbelievable – moments we treasure because they happened to US. You may have experienced similar events in your life. But the lives of each of us are as unique as our fingerprints. No one besides me has ever had all these things happen to him or to her. For what they are worth, here are some of them :
I was coming home from work in Paris in a suburban train. Just out of the Gare du Nord, the tracks pass between high-rise apartment buildings where almost every window was lit up. It was well after the rush-hour and most people were already home finishing dinner. There were only a handful of people in my carriage. Suddenly an explosion ! The man sitting next to the window and facing me had his face splattered with blood. Someone in a high-rise had taken a random rifle shot at our train. The bullet hit no one, but it did smash the window, sending multiple slivers or glass into the face of my unfortunate fellow-passenger.
I was pedaling as fast as I could to get from school to the park for our weekly sports afternoon. My brake handle slipped off the handle-bar and fell into my front wheel. The abrupt stop sent me hurtling over the handle-bars on to the road, right in front of the local hospital ! A passer-by picked me up and carried me inside where doctors patched me up and sent me home. The next day at school, with bruises all over my face and arms and with a still aching shoulder, I was caned for not turning up for the rugby match.
I could tell you about my all-expenses-paid week in Rio, my preaching in St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, my 1966 encounter with a U.S. Air Force general at Ramstein air-base in Germany, telling him why I disagreed about the war raging in Vietnam, the shooting of my short World War 1 movie in the Somme, my “dialogue” with President Chirac, my arrival in 1968 in the U.S., where we were to live for ten years and raise our children, with forty borrowed dollars in my pocket. But as a former priest, I guess the most extraordinary and happiest events in my life were my marriage with Marie-Claire, the birth of our three children and the day I declared myself an atheist. A cocktail like that is without precedent, and after my death will never be experienced by anyone ever again. Not a world-shaking series of events, but it was MY life and I’m glad to have lived it. And, as the man said, it ain’t over till it’s finished. Yesterday I made my second movie, this time with Amy. Three months from now I will be discovering the Great Ocean Road in my Terra Incognita on the other side of the world. By then I will have published my 600th post in this Blog. And that’s just the beginning of my life as an octogenarian.