For most meals for about a week now, Danielle has been laying copious amounts of exotic food in front of us. From saucy meat stews to tiny cod fritters, mountains of root vegetables and savory bananas to artfully arranged delicious fruit plates, many of which we do not recognize. Even their French names often elude me as even though the island of Guadeloupe is legally French, this sure isn’t the food I grew up with, in the “Metropole.” It is exciting and it scratches our group’s itch for the Essences of Adventure and Discovery. Oh, and Nurturing.
Danielle and her mom Esther take their job of feeding us quite seriously and when we happen to not finish our plates, the looks that falls upon us can be intimidating. Once, I attempted to pass on something that came my way and was told with no room for negotiation that I would try it. I did and of course, I was glad.
If one was to not pay attention, Danielle Queen of The Kitchen, could be mistaken for a tough (and bossy) cookie.
After lunch yesterday, she and I lingered around the table together and I became privy to this particular cookie’s very, very tender center.
We first met Danielle when Carol and I had arrived two days early to get ready for the Retreat.
She and two other beautifully dressed women had welcomed us downstairs from our small temporary apartment, and between the two of them, holding their hands, was a little girl with sparkly black eyes and plenty of spirit. When Danielle needed to open the door to let us in, she asked someone else to hold Sasha’s hand for a second. Noticing my look of surprise, Danielle explained that Sasha was born at 5 months and did not have any balance. No drama, no weirdness, just what it is.
Yesterday, sitting around the table, she and I settled comfortably and talked about our lives. She wanted to know how many children I had. I asked her if Sasha was her only daughter.
She then generously shared a chunk of her heart with me and in the process, made mine grow a size or two.
Little Sasha was born to Danielle’s neighbors. She spent her first three months in an incubator before being sent home. A few days later, Sasha’s mom burst into Danielle’s kitchen and handed her the tiny baby who was unresponsive and without a pulse. As Danielle tells it: she was dead in my hands. The minutes that followed are not completely clear to me - either on purpose or not - but what I did hear and understand is that “Danielle did what she was called to do” and somehow resuscitated the baby. Sasha was then brought to the hospital where the doctors asked Danielle what she had done to bring her back - and may not have gotten a clearer answer than I had.
And that is when the tiny little girl died for the second time that day.
The docs did what they do and got her heart beating once again. Except that this time, they let both Danielle and Sasha’s mom know that there was no chance of her living a normal life. Her brain had been deprived of oxygen for way too long and “they were going to bring home a vegetable.”
This was too much for the baby’s mom and so just like that, Sasha was handed to Danielle, and Danielle, who thought that she was done raising kids - her own daughter in her mid twenties and living in France - opened her home, her arms and her heart to the infant whom she had already “birthed” once.
What happened next is that “an immense amount of love was poured into that child.”
Danielle and her husband arranged their lives around what needed to be done, always kept a wide open door to Sasha’s birth family and well… a village raised that baby, one miracle after the next, under the watchful eye of Danielle. Which explains a few things about the way she runs her kitchen.
As the weeks and months then years passed, Sasha grew and healed and eventually thrived. Danielle explains to me that a team of doctors comes once a year from the Metropole to check on her progress. Danielle also takes her once a year over there for check ups and therapies. She says me that all along, Sasha has known what she needed for her own care - often to the huge surprise of doctors, and that Danielle took her cues from her.
I hear nothing about adoption, about whose child she is, nor about money. I hear only of ongoing love therapy and of the adoration for a child who according to Danielle, is a gift to everyone. She tells me how everywhere she goes, people are attracted to her and fall in love with her. She tells me that the only thing left now is for her balance to come back and that she knows that it will.
And then she tells me that this little girl means the world to her and that she is the one who was blessed the day she came to her. Then, she looks towards the ocean as she mentions to me that Sasha was born on Easter Monday, the day that Jesus came back to life, in the Catholic tradition.
I smile and bask in the richness of this special shared moment as my heart swirls in the gratitude that so far away from home - wherever that is - I am somehow home.
When I translate this story (which I am sharing here with permission) to our group, Matt, one of our guests, is inspired to say that “there is nothing that repeated applications of love can't solve.” I sure like this idea.
I also love that once again, I am reminded about how we Just. Never. Know.
It turns out that Tough Danielle is really Soft, Deeply Tender Danielle.
And I have a feeling that Bossy Danielle might have come in handy a time or two in the last three years, too.
Here’s to miracles, to dancing with life’s magic, to healing and to having our assumptions sent out for a little happy spin.
A friend of mine was having a tough time. Her life had hit one of these bumps that tend to show up once in a while. Because she and I are not very close friends, I did not know what the best way to bring a little relief to her life would be.
I considered asking her to "let me know if she needed anything," but somehow, I sensed that while it would make me feel better to have offered, not much of anything useful would come out of it, for her.
Then I considered offering something specific. Maybe bringing her some soup or some chocolate (this usually works for me). And yet, it still did not feel quite right.
Guided by a burst of inspiration, I chose to take on a more direct tactic and asked her to "tell me three things she needed, right now."
Three things. Three things she needed. Right now.
Immediately, she answered:
Within an hour, I showed up at her door with a hot meal for that night and her medication. Later that evening, I set up a "Meal Train," that would allow other people to join in the privilege of making her life a little easier AND would provide her with some nutritious, effortless food for a while - not to mention remind her of how much she is loved.
I am so glad this very specific question came to my mind. I have a feeling that this is one I will use again and again.
"Tell Me Three Things You Need, Right Now."
I invite your to try it.
As long as I can remember, I have loved my birthday.
I made sure from a very young age to let people know that my Dec 28 birthday was NOT to be diluted with Christmas nor New Year’s. On the other hand (hey, it’s my party and I can have double standards if I want to), I often felt that all the lights, bustle and decorations lathered all over Paris had something to do with celebrating me. A whole month and a whole city rejoicing because my birthday was coming up. Yup.
As I grew older, I still loved my special day, often letting friends know in early December that there were 26 shopping days left before my birthday.
It never wore off and end of December or not, I was treated to some beautiful displays of celebration and love.
When I turned 30, my kids’ dad and I had opened a French bakery 6 days before. I was unknowingly pregnant with our second child and very, very sleepy. When he lured me out of the house in my pajamas under the pretense of bringing him something he just had to have, I walked straight into a couple dozens of our friends gathered in the tiny magical space. The love oozed from the cake cases and I almost forgot how nauseated I had felt.
When I turned 40 and had a bit of trepidation around the notion of a new decade, my youngest son told me that I was about to become thirty-ten. I loved that. Newly divorced and with three little kids, I stepped into what I knew would be a big decade by taking a deep breath and blowing candles along with a wish to manage to make the next rent payment.
For my 50th birthday, good friends threw me a raucous surprise party as my kids convinced me to walk into a Mexican Restaurant blindfolded. My heart was sore from a recent loss but there was no way to not let the love soften the sharp edges.
This year, I found myself making uncharacteristically little noise about my upcoming birthday. No hints at shopping days, no plans… Up till the night before, a few ideas had been thrown in the air and I went to sleep with a “let’s see what inspiration brings in the morning.”
The morning showed up early, more like the middle of the night. I woke up and instantly felt strange and disoriented inside my soul. I thought about my birthday and right away a dark purple wave of grief made its way between my cheek and my pillow. A photo came to my mind and with it, the grief got richer and made itself more at home. A photo of my mom holding me minutes after I was born, while my grandmother looked on. My mom looked beautiful and I looked … red. That’s when the grief thought it would be a good time to justify itself by reminding me that my mom would not be calling me this year. She had taken her last breath a few weeks ago, moments before I had rested my hand on her belly and thanked it for housing my siblings and myself for a total of 27 months.
She would not be calling and suddenly the idea of celebrating a birth-day made no sense. If the person who gave birth to me no longer existed, something about acknowledging that day felt profoundly incomplete and almost fraud-like.
I sat in the dark for another hour or two and knew that this year would be different. Quiet, internal. I knew that I would not want to leave the house and that the oven would be on a lot. I would bake, I would write, I would work a little and I would give this jiggly dark purple shape a home for today. It and I, we would hang.
And we did. All day long and rather quietly until the one person who might understand without words called me - and shook the dam loose.
This is the first year and I have a feeling that while it will never be the same again, the joy of this special day will eventually win back its place in my life. There are more parties to be had, more celebrations to invent, more quiet gratitude to send also to the woman who was there for the very first one.
Until that time, I will feel it all, bake some more and remind myself that there is no need to explain, not even to ourselves. We just need to have the courage to trust that our heart knows what it needs and when it needs it. And to let it have just that.
PS: When I spoke with my daughter, still in the dark of the very early morning, she said to me: “Mom, if you die, I will die too.” Even though I knew what her heart meant, I had to ask her to take it back three times. Because she loves me, she did.
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