I am writing this on July 14, France’s national holiday, chosen in 1880 not only in commemoration of the Fall of the Bastille in 1789 but also as the Feast of the Federation, the 1790 first birthday of the Republic. The annual military parade and display of force have long overshadowed this second, celebratory, forgotten dimension of what is now simply called la Fête Nationale.
This year all stops were pulled out to mark the centenary of the intervention of the U.S. in 1917, which contributed significantly – with heavy cost in American lives – to the victory of 1918. Donald Trump was guest of honor, and proudly saluted the ancient trucks and antique tanks, as well as a symbolic contingent of U.S. troops, including five in World War One uniforms.
Two weeks from today I will begin my biennial visit to Australia, accompanied by members of my French family. My children were all born in the U.S., where we lived for ten years. At 80 years of age I look back at my initial 27 years in Australia and my 43 years in France, separated by a full decade Stateside, and sum up my life in the words of this post’s title, with the addition of “Entretemps, l’Unique Amérique”, “In Between, America the Unique”.
Australia is, literally, my fatherland, the country where I, and my parents, were born. France, of which I have become a citizen, is my country of adoption. Above all, it is the country where I discovered the liberty of a libre-penseur, a free-thinker, expressed in my atheism. In between the two, America, so different from both Australia and France, a fascinating kaleidoscope of extremes I was lucky enough to experience first-hand.
Today I feel proud to be French, do not regret leaving the States, and remain viscerally attached to Down Under. It is, I suppose, ironic that I was sent as a priest to France to do post-graduate studies in Theology, which served my ten-year career as a lay-theologian, professor of Theology and Religious Education Director in the U.S., before returning to France – an atheist – to begin, at age 41, a business-career of 23 years, and, after retirement 16 years ago, the active promotion of atheism through my book and this blog.
“Non, rien de rien; je ne regrette rien”. That is no more true for me than it was for Edith Piaf in her signature song. But, in spite of some hardships and very few regrets, I have been very fortunate. It makes no sense to wonder what I would do if I had my life to live over again. But I can honestly say that I consider myself lucky to have had the experiences I have had – not only living in three different countries for significant lengths of time, but in the education I received, the religious faith I inherited and later rejected, the experience as a Franciscan for fifteen years – seven of them as a priest – and the opportunity I have had to share my questioning of faith and its illusions with Believers on the Brink. I do not deserve the luxury of having been happily married for more than twenty years, being the father of three marvelous children and grandfather of their Fabulous Five, of having had a satisfying professional career and continuing to have an intellectually invigorating retirement living in France and maintaining a French Connection with Australia.
I would thank God, if He existed, instead of which I thank all those who made this life of mine possible. “God” sure as Hell didn’t.