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 tells 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.