I sit and write this with a heavy heart.
On April first a friend tragically died in the prime of his life – thirty-five years old with four young children, a partner with two of her own kids, a new business venture on the horizon and much else to look forward to. What should have been an ordinary day at work ended much differently than expected when a freak accident changed the course of everything.
François was a biodynamic organic farmer. His love of the land shined through when he was in his environment. To watch him caress the earth and smell it as it rained softly back to the earth through his toughened worker’s fingers was like catching two lovers in a passionate embrace. His smile lit up his sky-blue eyes, and his sandy brown hair the colour of the earth on a warm sunny day, was a reflection of his chosen path in life – to work the land and grow nourishing food so others too could enjoy his passion by eating the fruits of his labour. Unfortunately in our area we will have eaten the last of the food he sowed by the end of this growing season.
Those of us fortunate enough to have crossed his path and gotten caught up in his love to grow food may very well be eating food inspired by François for many years to come. We now have a polytunnel in our back garden because he found a good deal on the internet. So myself, a few friends and François all chipped in to have the pieces delivered to our village.
The day Janine (his partner), François and I unloaded the steel tubes that would one day keep the warmth of the sun under it’s taut plastic shell tied on to their structure, was hard work made easier because many of the steel tubes we unloaded were for his future business venture, and his enthusiasm was infectious. My city-boy hands were gloved while he unloaded bare-handed.
He was an affectionate caring partner and where our societal pressures give us too many excuses to be absent parents or partners, there was always time for his family. Organic farming is long hard work, but it didn’t stop him from having quality time to spend with his four children. I think they were the only priority over the land he spent his days tilling or sowing.
Our families had eaten dinner together, a comically large ensemble of eight kids and four adults, but it was a pleasure. Myself and Angie had enjoyed a few lunches with Janine and François on the terrace of the house they shared. The magnificent greens he grew tasted wonderful and in true French fashion there was always time to talk. Time is a precious commodity, not one you can buy or earn interest on, but it must be used well and cherished in our every waking moment. François fortunately mostly used his time well.
I was only getting to know François in the past few months. His voice reminded me of an adolescent boy’s voice crackling into maturity. It was just another reflection of his personality. I felt he met life with the curiosity of the young. Our polytunnel venture had Angie and I asking questions concerning setting up and later growing food in them. His distinctive laugh would crackle and his tone never wavered even if he may have thought our questions to be silly.
His partner Janine is an Englishwoman we have known for years. François realised their cultural differences and instead of just living with them, he decided to be pro-active about it. I used to host a free hour of conversational English but stopped last November. François was keen to join in and although I was hesitant to restart it, I did because we found a day and time he could come, again his child-like enthusiasm swept me up into giving it one more go. The Tuesday before his death was the first of the new-found English hour. François was a big part of the reason the five of us sat around the table to share that time. In our introductions he said he wanted to learn English because he was living with an Englishwoman and two English children, and he wanted to more deeply understand their culture.
Our second class was canceled on Tuesday April first. Only ten minutes before I was to begin class I was told of the sad news. I arrived in shock at the café to share the unfortunate news with the others. It wasn’t a cruel prank that the day is well-known for. We all could only wish it was. I will never get to know if François did the little bit of homework I asked of him – to explain the veggie scheme he was a part of in Toulouse, in English. He struggled the previous week trying to explain, but we all had a good laugh and when I asked him to be ready for next week, the glint in his eyes and big smile told me that he would give it a try, but it was going to be hard work.
Of course François was not perfect, he like us all, made mistakes and that is what it is to be human. The resilience of life lives side by side with its frailty, as do our failures with our triumphs. I write this to celebrate his humanity, and to look at the positive we all have the ability to tap into in our precious lives and share with others.
François, I am hopeful that where you now are you understand everything a lot more than us left here who feel like we’re numbly staring incomprehensibly at a gigantic field that has just been tilled but has been left unseeded.
I was just getting to know you, but now will have to hold on to the precious few moments we had. Your passion lives on, we will sow and harvest in our polytunnel and think of you, our English hour will never be the same without your presence.
The cruelty and yet beauty of life is that we will move on and carry you in our hearts. The one commodity we all think we have in unlimited abundance, that you seemed to use so well, is time, and we will all need to be more conscious of its preciousness and fleeting nature. Ironically it’s your untimely death that brought that lesson once again to the fore.
François, my love and thoughts are with you, your family, and friends. I can only hope the journey you have just commenced is as inspiring as your earthly one was.