b. My adolescence and the beginning of my adult life, quest for meaning Mon adolescence et le début de ma vie d adulte, recherche de sens

Saturday 13 February 2016

b. My Adolescence and the beginnings of my adult life - quest for meaning.

(Mon Adolescence et le commencement de ma vie d’adulte-recherche de sens.)

I realised that wanting to get out of this poverty whilst keeping worldly values was an ’illusion’ for me that would prove to be dangerous, as I was seeking my deepest being.

At the age of fourteen, I obtained the Certificate of primary studies ’certificat d’études primaires’. At the time it represented something important, but I had to go out to work. Very rapidly I went from the world of childhood to the world of adulthood. My ’social’ life was non-existent, my inner life, both intellectual and spiritual, were uncultivated, without any means of expressing themselves. I needed to leave so as not to get into a rut. Leaving meant moving towards the unknown.

I read an announcement in a newspaper : ’Apprentice baker/cake maker required’. It was forty kilometres away, in Thaon les Vosges, near Epinal. My sister Lucienne’s boyfriend, my future brother-in-law Michel, was a baker and he encouraged me to go for it. I went and lived there for a month, being completely ’exploited’ by a hard boss, in a fairly corrupted family, I was working non-stop from morning ’till night without being paid. Nor did I have any work contract. Michel came to visit me, he knew this kind of baker and got me out of there. It was just as well he did, otherwise I think I’d have fallen ’ill’.

Back home after this ordeal, it was tempting to go and work at the local wood-cutting factory or the local factory. We looked at the newspaper announcements and saw ’Looking for an apprentice butcher in Epinal’. Once again I put myself forward for the job, and this time round, the owners were open and welcoming. So I was in another situation, with lots of work from five o’clock in the morning until nine in the evening. I had to confront the hard reality of work and the links the workers had between themselves. It wasn’t always easy but I had what it took to face up to this new reality. There I prepared a ’CAP’. One of the examiners employed me in his Butcher’s in Epinal. This was another experience altogether, selling meat in town. I was at ease and everything was going well for me, but I wasn’t feeling free deep down and

where I was wasn’t helping me to grow on a spiritual level! I was ill at ease with the vulgar jokes in this world , a world I couldn’t really make head or tail of! I remember around this time I would usually go to the ball with friends or to the cinema, choosing lovely films or ’company’ that was in harmony with my ideal of life within me, with what I desired to live. One evening, wearing a medal of Mary on my shirt, a friend I went to a dance with said to me : ’You’re going to the ball with that on you?’ I was quite taken aback. In fact, I used to get bored during these balls. Coming home once around midnight, I saw a light on in a Church, heard some hymns. I went in to see what was going on. Was it Christmas? Easter? I don’t know.

When I began working in town it was if I was in exile, far from ’nature’, my childhood mountains, this little corner of the earth to which I was so attached. I had to grieve the past. Of course I would go and visit my family during my holidays. They were getting on with everything I knew so well but now I was elsewhere, living a certain form of solitude. I was no longer in my family and didn’t have any place where I felt secure. The butchers’ environment seemed one that was closed in on itself and once again I didn’t feel any future perspective there. When I was eighteen, the owner closed up and I didn’t feel like looking for another job. As I had the CAP, I opted for advancing my call of military service. It was at the time of the Algerian war. Engaging in the army I would be free earlier from military obligations and could then pursue work. It was a good choice, because we were in the Algerian war and did twenty-seven months of military service. So I took a commitment in the army for two years. I could have the choice of which army I wanted to be in and which country I wanted to serve in.

I chose to do intendancy in Germany. I found myself in Tubingen where I stayed two years. This is how anew stage of my journey began. I as with soldiers come from many different horizons. I was in a different country and in a different culture. In this new situation I could find a space which corresponded more to me because of its openness and because I could also make friends. Every kind of ’milieu’ was represented and I felt I had my place there. I could situate myself as a military like all the others and without any a priori. Life together was organised with its way of doing things in an orderly fashion, with its rules and this suited me, orientating me to an exterior that was vaster, the service of the homeland. I received recognition and was appreciated by my comrades and my superior. The space given to me gave me the chance of being myself. I was preparing my future, was choosing my path.

In this way military service was for me a place of openness and orientation. The values of the Homeland, Service, Gift of self were at honour and they were going to allow me to make a choice that I would understand later on.

During my free time I would take up studies where I would feel more at ease and more valued. I had a much school work to catch up on, I needed to get to the level of secondary studies!

Whilst my pals were having a good time , I had good reasons to stay in the barracks and work! This suited me very well, like this I wouldn’t be putting in peril the Christian values I felt within me, in comparison to a life often full of ’debauchery’ that my colleagues led. I avoided the ’dodgy’ conversations with my companions of arms. The ’moral’ behaviour buried within me, which I wasn’t aware of, was awakening : ’I tried to do good and avoid evil’! I found a moral rectitude of existence that I had already suspected to be there within me, without being able to manifest it in words. The different readings I did situated the characters in which I could be identified with, and I was able to come to a better understanding of what was going on in and around me. The studies allowed me to come into contact with world history, with culture. I particularly enjoyed literature, music, I was part of a chorus, which allowed me to discreetly announce what I liked. I got to like going swimming in the baths, go jogging and also I like going out of the barracks to go to mass for example. For me it was the time of choices! The deep adhesion to people and to situations was going to determine what my life was going to be. At that time I would collect sayings such as ’ Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are!’ What was happening to me at that time was very important because I needed to feel ’free’, in a world where some values had an echo in me. I had to discover how other ’values’ were within me, which were in fact those of the Gospel. It is in this human and Christian recognition that I was able to acquire confidence in myself and begin to find my unity. I did indeed need to determine myself according to the values that was liing on the inside without having any conscience nor knowledge of them, and to look on the outside, what I was feeling within me and to be confirmed of them.

I’m going to put words on what I was living then with the help of Eric de Rus’ book on Edith Stein : ’The affective meaning and the world of values’ Ad Solem: page 79 :

"The advent of the person is a work of freedom. The aptitude to open up to the world of values puts in strong evidence the spiritual dimension of the

human person and his orientation towards transcendence…for Edith Stein, understanding the other as a spiritual person is the equivalent of penetrating into the world of values that makes up the most intimate core of his being and his orientation towards transcendence…So it is clear that the exercise of the soul’s faculties run towards inner unification of the person as soon as it places a person in contact with cultural wealth and with this unperishable lie vehiculated by the highest values which allow the will in the end to determine itself on a practical level and with accuracy. For in the end, it is a question of making up one’s mind ’to take on the inner attitude that is correct and adequate vis à vis objective values and when putting them into practice bearing fruit by this attitude.

Consequently, it is the manner by which we bring an adequate response to the value which defines ethical life. For here ethical life is defined as the search, by using our freedom, of an adequate response to the objective value which makes me face as a donation? And gets me moving by its intrinsic request, the seeking of a conformity of my liberty with the essence of the value commended to me, an essence that obliges me."

I was sous officer at the age of nineteen, selected as an instructor and they suggested I did the school of officers. This new perspective had me take on a commitment for three years! If I had felt restricted in my life in the Vosges, now I had to confront military ways. This was a period when I read greatly.

I have few memories of my Christian life in my childhood for it was mixed up with the constraints of daily life and the same went for when I was working.

I think that I always did believe in God . The military period of my life was a time when I could ask myself many questions. With the human ’base’ that was being put into place in my life, I needed to discover the Christian dimension of my being, its orientation towards God-something I didn’t know about! I give thanks to God for Him having gradually revealed Himself to me! I understand how the Word that made me move was that of Jeremiah : ’I shall place my law in their hearts.’ But I still had the feeling of not being ’up to’ others. Still today I can be lacking self-assurance -this feeling was rooted in me during my childhood! Is this the prerogative of battered children? Perhaps I find here too the reasons for which I feel the need to repeat myself three times to make sure I’ve been understood! Perhaps this need for confirmation in who I am and in

what I still discover is the expression of the lack of paternal confirmation of which I still suffer and is expressed in this way!

After staying two years in Germany I was sent on mission to Algeria , to Ouargla, in the French Sahara at that time. I was in charge of deliveries and the reception of food and clothes. I would work with Algerians in a military office. We had very warm relationships between us! I became aware very quickly of the gap between the values these local populations had, compared to the French Army. These Algerians were Muslims from the south of the Sahara that was French at the time, ad they were very religious people. Members of their family had died in combat for France during the last world wars! Faced with the religious practice of these Muslim people, the way Christianity was lived out in he militaries of the contingent was hard to match! As well, jealousy, competition, rivality were rife amongst many in those who ran the army. I would take my distance from all this for my desires wasn’t to ’play a character’. I felt the danger in me of entering into these feelings of domination, search for pleasure and superiority that went on amongst some military people. Not wanting to be in an ambiguous situation, I had to make choices. I had other interests : succeed in life despite all that was missing on the social and intellectual level. I was appreciated by the people around me but I would often keep silent, not sure I should reveal myself. I would live on the outside of myself, I didn’t yet know my inner life towards which I was going to journey. In fact, the role I had in the army as sous officer, the perspective I had to become an officer, gave me a recognition which could have been deceitful, for it didn’t lead to what I was seeking, what was essential for me. As I delved into myself during this time, I became aware that by playing a certain role as a military person, in a world that wasn’t centred on what was essential, I could have lost the vey meaning of my poverty. And so the outer world would take over me. I also came to the understanding of how a certain ’culture’ could be harmful to med deepening my life and could establish me in something lived on the outside, without any future. I was prudent, a bit unsociable, exterior to the world I didn’t understand and at the same time I paid attention to join this ’world’ I hardly knew. I would take into account the complex situation everyone had as they went on their journey. I had to work hard on an intellectual level and I was always hoping for a better life not knowning what that could mean! I went through spiritual combats during my time in the Sahara desert. I remember one day feeling how easily I could slip into a world that didn’t seem true to me! I didn’t have the intellectual means to combat with the prevalent ideas of domination and violence. Many members of the military contingent were overcome with search for pleasures and this demeaned them. They would play at being ’hard’ and the superiority of the noisiest and ’hardest’ would carry. All I had was my conscience and what I felt to be true in my life and in the Gospel. I would bear witness by my life, but I had to avoid being rejected by my military companions. What would have been needed was tor raise the debate to the level of a true dialogue and develop the ideas I felt. I could of course have invested in the are of confronting false ideas, but I preferred to put my energy in studying the Gospel –here I found a true response to all these lacks of hope and to these questionings. I also think that the ’hermit’ in me drew me to this and I felt more myself. I wanted to be faithful to the desires I could feel and which required space to develop in and blossom. I was indeed in need of finding a harmony between what I could feel and the values of the place where I was living.

I wouldn’t know how to explain what made me go through the door of the White Fathers house. I took contact with their community in Ouargla. We got on well, and I began a journey of conversion. I had to become aware of God’s presence in me and in the world! I had never been in a conscious rupture with God or the Church. I was more ignorant and indifferent. It was when I came into contact with the White Fathers that I would begin to read religious books, particularly the life of the Saints. I was beginning to be worked upon inside of me in a deep way. It is hard to know what event had me choose God. As I read the lives of the Saints(I read about so many!) I could feel the experience of God’s presence. I would adopt the attitudes and inner behaviour of these people who found themselves in the depths of their own being and in the depths of God. In the struggles and combats that were described in their lives, I could recognise the world we were living in.In discovering Jesus’ Mystery,, God’s own mystery, I discovered there too my own mystery, and that of humanity. If I had lived outside of myself up until then, seeking on the outside, in success or appearance in order to make a success of my life, I now discovered an inner world rich of presence and love, much more seductive. So I think it was then that I began to build myself upon Christ and the Gospel became my land. I recognised that what I could read and hear about Jesus was truth and life.

From then on I would feel ill at ease in military life and so I gave in my resignation there. My resignation was refused because of the religious reasons I gave, they were not valid enough for the Army. But from this time on, I worked conscientiously but my energy was to enter into a new way of searching Jesus and being in relationship with Him. Thanks to study and prayer, little by little ,worldly attitudes and the values and truth of the Gospel were differentiated for me. I would devour the White Fathers’ library. I discovered why I wasn’t at ease with the coarse language and jokes that were of bad taste for they smothered God’s Light within me!

The Saints I read about were poor or had become poor. I could recognise this form of poverty given in the Gospel, I could identify with it. The ’ideal’ of poverty to be like Jesus settled in me. I began to be built in a new way, ’not being of the world but being in the world.’ if I had had to cope as a child much by myself, I would now have to cope again in another way : not to let people see from the outside my quest for an inner life which wouldn’t have been understood by many in the military life. Yet here and there I found a few accomplices who would go to Church.

At this time I would spend my holidays at the White Fathers of France and I was already thinking I would enter there as soon as I was liberated. I was on training for intendancy in France when the end of the war with Algeria came. After this training period I went back to Ouargla to reintegrate the army ’material’ coming to the Sahara barracks on their way back to France. We went from the South to the North and I found myself at a position in Alger to continue working on the reintegration of this material. I had come from the Sahara desert where life was simple and now I was in this large town of Alger, where I was confronted with all sorts of new questions. As I made new acquaintances I could sharply see how marked I was by my simple background. Perhaps this wasn’t apparent from the outside, but on the inside I was very often paralysed by my lack of ’adapted expression’ to culture and questions that were asked. I didn’t lack having values but I was in an ’intellectual world’ that made me ill at ease! Religious culture had become my own, I felt fine in the Gospel but, once more, not adapted in the world!

My conversion to Jesus made these Words from the Gospel quite obvious for me : ’I bless you, Father, for having revealed this to the little ones.’ I could tell what a difference there was between the Gospel and the world.

From now on, I had to face up to the reality of my childhood that was within me.