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Two Weddings and Two Funerals - Being in Service to Life

It is a sunny May morning and I am sitting with Greg, my Australian husband, in the kitchen of Monsieur Bavard in the little village of Fabas in the South of France. It is a special moment for both of us. This friend of my grandfather married us 26 years ago in his little mairie. Serving 51 years as a town councillor, 32 of them as town mayor, now 90 years old, M. Bavard chats with the same vivacity and lucidity of his earlier years. His eyes have the spark and the intelligence of those who have lived their life fully and have harvested the fruit of countless experiences.

It is a privilege to listen to his stories, to some of the multitude of moments that he has shared with the 200 souls of this small township. “As mayor, I had my phone next to me every night. Each time the phone rang, I attended the call and went to support the person who needed help. It was usually bad news... someone had died, or someone´s house had been hit by a storm and was falling down.”

It is deeply moving to hear him talking with such an unassuming spirit about his unconditional commitment to the community. I know that he is genuine. When Greg and I decided to get married in the town of my grandfather, M. Bavard cut through all the red tape, juggling with documents that were written in several foreign languages, and smoothed the path to our little ceremony. Among the cacophony of languages, he went beyond his duties to make sure that Greg and my in-laws would feel at home: before the wedding, he practiced a couple of sentences in English that we had written down for him so he could “properly” welcome Greg´s parents. Then, knowing that Greg didn´t understand French but spoke Spanish, Bavard secretly visited a neighbouring town maire, married to a Spanish woman, and asked her to write down the vows in Spanish. On the day, with his thick French accent, Bavard managed to proudly read aloud the English and Spanish sentences, amid the merriment of all the witnesses.

Later on in the course of our kitchen conversation, Bavard whispers to me with a cheeky smile in his eyes: “Tu veux un souvenir?” “Would you like a memory?” He looks like grandma handing out lollies to her grandchild. I nod. Then he confesses that he was probably the only mayor in France that had officiated at the burial of a goose. Many years ago, my grandfather and his neighbour were in conflict with each other... My grandfather had inadvertently run over one of his neighbour´s geese and killed it. He went straight to this neighbour, told him what had happened and paid him the value of the goose. When he was about to leave, the neighbour said to him: “Now you have to bury it.” “No way”, replied my grandfather, “it was your goose”. The neighbour said: “Yes, it was, but now that you have paid for it, it is yours. So you have to bury it.” “When this conflict came to my attention”, continues the retired mayor, “I quickly decided to take charge of the situation with these two local rascals. I didn´t want to take any risks. I came along with a ranger and a code enforcement officer to give the poor goose an official funeral. Et voilà! Now you can find the report of its burial in the register of our town hall”, he declares proudly.

Then suddenly the tone of his voice becomes more serious. My grandfather, who was born in Spain, crossed the border to France as a youth during WWI. In 1942 he had applied for the French citizenship so he could fight with the Resistance in WWII. Bavard recalls how my grandfather told him about the libération, at the end of the war. “He fought for France, he was in service to our nation”, he adds solemnly.

I knew that my grandfather´s life had revolved around becoming a French citizen and being a member of the maquis, the French underground guerrilla. Leaving Catalonia at such a young age, he had decided to fully embrace the French republic at a time when this nation was being threatened by the nazis. His way of “being in service” was to leave behind his roots in Catalonia and fight to protect the land that welcomed him as a young man. Bavard’s voice is trembling when he shares my grandfather’s war experiences. I feel his devotion. “Being in service to the nation” gave my grandfather a purpose in life. Getting up in the middle of the night to attend someone´s death gave Bavard his purpose in life. Being in service to the community and to my family, officiating at our marriage, at my grandfathers´second marriage and at my grandfather´s funeral was his way of serving life.

For me, the purpose of life is to live our life and to help others live theirs. Or as my friend Alba would put it, “to shine and to help others shine.” When I facilitate constellations I feel that I am in accord with this purpose. As I do when I recycle, bake a birthday cake, do the shopping for our family, listen to my friend's heartbreak, dance, reach out for help or hug a loved one. Others might officiate a funeral for a goose.


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