Painting by Winslow Homer

The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
they’re in each other all along.

Rumi

Finding the place where we belong is the soul’s quest, a return to love. Sometimes as we walk down life’s pathways it can be good to ask, “Does this path lead to love?” If it does, follow it, because this is the bowl of honey waiting to be tasted, known also as “the sweetness that was before honey or bee.”

For some the journey is through silence, for others through sound, or a combination of both. Always the mystery is in the space, like the doorway into the secret garden. If one can have the courage to hold the space — which for the mystic is a place of prayer — then one can live where the worlds meet, where mystery comes into being, formless into form, where the heart is open, where the song of the soul is present.

— Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee

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“It is part of the mystery of life on earth that the human soul can awaken, grow greater, and reveal inner gifts when everything turns dark and seems about to fall apart. Soul does not fear a downturn or seek to avoid a period of darkness. Soul carries a deeper wisdom and darker knowledge born of descent and loss and renewal. Soul would have us go where we fear to go in order to learn who we are intended to be.”

— Michael Meade, “Why the World Doesn’t End”

Both of us had worked on old houses in Austin before we moved to France, but we were shocked by initial estimates we got there. They were inappropriate to the jobs at hand and astronomical in price. People must have thought we were rich. We suddenly understood we had to do the work ourselves unless it was dangerous, like electricity and plumbing. We needed advice. We needed help from someone trustworthy. Between us we had taste, experience and some skills but it was going to be a big learning curve.

One of the first things we noticed when we moved to the French countryside was how many do-it-yourself stores there were. Everyone was working on their own houses. I was surprised at how handy everyone was. Professional tradespeople were very well compensated and had to be used sparingly. If you could do it yourself, you could save yourself a lot of money.

We spent a lot of time in the “bricolage” establishments learning about tools and materials. Bernard Gouget had a well equipped store in Salins-Les-Bains, a town nearby that was founded in Roman times. Bernard came from a large family well established in the building trades. He helped steer us to reliable workers when we needed them. His brother replaced our crumbling roof. These were honest people.

Bernard was a stout, energetic man who was often shouting angrily into his phone as we arrived at his shop, usually because a delivery was late. When we needed to confer about a job, we retired to his office where the walls were plastered with centerfold type photos of naked ladies. Madame Gouget wore provocative clothes she had no doubt worn to greater effect in her youth. His French was different from any French I had ever heard. He used a lot of slang and puffed as he spoke. It took some getting used to.

When he learned we were from Texas, he immediately started calling us Mexicans and started inviting us to visit him and his family at home. We resisted for a long time but when we finally accepted, it went off better than we expected it to. We ate and drank better than we thought we would, met all the kids and spent an altogether pleasant evening.

Friends in our village said they didn’t like Bernard, that he was too brash, too much of a cowboy, but we found him honest and helpful. Our success in renovating our house was thanks in large part to him. He had an old conflict going with his town and its people that we didn’t understand.

Bernard had a brain aneurysm eventually and spent a year recovering. When he finally returned, he liquidated his business and moved to Morocco, where he and his wife opened a B&B. He was one of those helpers who show up unexpectedly at just the right time to pull your projects in the right direction. Looking back, we realize that we were in good hands through our whole renovation project because of Bernard. He was heaven-sent.

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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