Julie Parker Bonjour has started a website to share her blog, help those who love French to practice their language skills, and later, share portions of a memoir about the gift of setbacks in mental illness.
2018. Douze nouveaux étudiants voulaient s’inscrire dans mes cours de français, y compris une fille de 8 ans; j’étais ravie et enthousiasmée par le succès de ma petite annonce! Deux jours plus tard, après avoir commandé des livres de français, des chansons, un jeu de loto bi-lingue, j’ai eu une petite crise cardiaque. J’avais oublié que j’avais plus de 80 ans. C’était la fin de mes années comme “prof.” Notre famille portait des masques dans l’hôpital car le patient à côté de moi ne pouvait cesser de tousser. Quelqu’un désire-t-il une grammaire?
2018. Twelve new students wanted to sign up for my French courses, including an eight-year-old girl. I was delighted and excited by the success of my little announcement. Two days later, after having ordered French textbooks, songs and a bi-lingual Lotto game, I had a small heart attack. I had forgotten that I was over 80. It was the end of my years of teaching. Our family wore masks in the hospital because the patient next to me couldn’t stop coughing. Does anybody want a textbook?
Que pensait-il, ressentait-il, il y a 15 ans? Nous l’avons regardé, notre petit-fils, maintenant “entrepreneur en démarrage dans La Silicon Valley,” nous quitter, marchant le long du Pacifique, seul. Il retournait a son dernier mois de la vie universitaire après un semestre au Costa Rica pour sa spécialité biologie-espagnol. On avait passé 5 jours ensemble dans le parc national de Corcovado sur la péninsule d’Osa. Nous avons vu un puma, des singes. Il était heureux un moment, pensif le suivant. “J’adore être un gosse. Je ne veux jamais grandir.”
What was he thinking, feeling, 15 years ago? We watched him, now our Silicon Valley start-up grandson, leave us, walking along the Pacific alone. He was headed back to his last month of college life after a semester in Costa Rica for his double biology/Spanish major. We had spent five days together in Costa Rica’s Corcovado national park on the Osa peninsula. We’d seen a puma, monkeys. He was happy one moment, pensive the next. “I love being a kid. I don’t really ever want to grow up.”
Ma chère amie Deborah m’a présenté cette écarpe pour ma fête, un plan gigantesque de Paris. Je l’adore. Elle (l’écharpe) est devenue mon “Ningaminny”, un mot inventé par mon frère aîné quand il avait 2 ans, traînant sa petite couverture derrière lui en souçant son pouce. Ce que j’aime, c’est que l’écharpe montre mon adresse en 1952 quand j’étais étudiante à Paris, 66 avenue de Saxe. Le monument Pasteur était à deux pas de notre appartement. Quels beaux souvenirs!
My dear friend Deborah gave me this scarf for my birthday. It’s a gigantic map of Paris. I love it. It has become my ‘Ningaminny,’ a word my older brother invented when he was two, dragging his ‘blanky’ behind him, sucking his thumb. What I love is that the scarf shows my address when I was a student in Paris in 1952, 66 Avenue de Saxe. The Pasteur statue was just a little way from our apartment. What great memories!
It is almost too late to say farewell to dear old humanity. Millennials are bewitched by the little box in their palm, thumbing a message to a kid three feet away. Why use face muscles or try to read another person’s puzzling expression when an emoji does it for us. Study those emojis. They rob the richness of a human face longing to connect and slip us a choice instead of 40 yellow idiot dots. We click on one, send a text, we’re linked! Five people text us back. We’re popular! But then why are we so lonely, so isolated, so prone to take drugs? Why do we fall for these gadgets?
Infotech isn’t a new thing, we’ve had IT creep for years. Our human capacities simply got overwhelmed….we couldn’t handle the information age without Google to the rescue. Before that it was Xerox. Copies linked us then buried us. With so much to read, so much to worry about- a bus crash in Bolivia- we know we are ‘losing it.’ Change is unmooring us. The pressure on our humanness gets greater every minute. We are desperate for a little free time. But where? How about meals? Such a waste cooking, serving, chewing, swallowing. Smoothies to the rescue, or take out. Double up with cell phone news, more texting, ads buffeting us. If others are at the table, they are texting too. We try multi-tasking. A friend got a text from someone walking the labyrinth in meditation. I watch a father running, pushing his baby on an outing, a good thing. But he’s on his smart phone and oh, he’s getting in his nightly jog. Forget relating to the baby.
Relating to the baby. Here is the real crux of how we are abandoning our humanity. Our little ones are turning to their cell phones for the comfort and reassurance they are not getting in relationships with the adults at home. Life seems grim, nothing but competing teams, a race from kindergarten through college to perform, to do well, to succeed, to win. Win what? We do not communicate to our youngest generation the value of simply being alive and goofing off now and then, dreaming! Living is perilous: quick, drugs.
Parents are stressed, school is stressed, jobs are stressed, our globe is stressed. But is life any more dangerous than it was in World War II or the Cold War or Korea or Vietnam when a nuclear threat hung over us? We are in a time of relative peace, yet our frenzy accelerates. We most need to reestablish the best left of our vanishing humanity: the ability to relate. Let us reassure our children in wisdom, face to face, that life is a wonderful gift and give them time to enjoy it.
When an 85 year old writes those words everyone assumes I’m the one about to leave this world, right? Quite the opposite. My sadness is watching humanity die before my eyes while I go on living.
We are losing our human selves in ‘great clumps on the hairbrush of information technology’ daily. Hairbrush? What a startling metaphor. But it is apt because IT bristles and yanks at the lovely tresses of what we humans do best: look and smile at each other, listen to and empathize with each other, spend time with one another. It is true that we are flawed in our human relationships, interrupting and tuning each other out. But as long as we still can read signs of distress or delight in our fellow human faces we keep those hairs from falling out; we have hopes of training them. But instead aren’t we shedding them to emojis? Our smartphones are coming between us, taking us over.
It seems it is not only to each other, but we can no longer even relate directly to our natural world. It used to be second nature to go to the park, climb a tree or vacation in a camp ground in the woods. Someone just sent us a weird article titled “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help you Find Health and Happiness.” (Time by Qing Li, May 1, 2018.) Why do we need someone to tell us this? Are our lives becoming so alienated from a bunch of trees that we need them poured into a warm tub for us? Such preciousness shows another strand of our humanness, feet on the grassy ground, being brushed away. “Experts” are combing our natural world into such an odd ‘do’ that it makes it unrecognizable. I.T. forces us to use our 24 hour daily ration of time either on terra firma connecting to its wonders and each other or on the insatiable web. Yes, the web does bring us our entire planet’s miracles at a fingernail tap, but at such a cost of time and energy that we lose ourselves, falling in bed exhausted. Now that is human at least. But IT is surely on the greedy hunt to snag our last 8 hours, those we sleep.
When I step onto the web I sense myself leaving my lovable old world behind. I choose I.T. over time with friends and try not to “pick up that hairbrush” often. I feel someone stealing my walk in the woods, repackaging it into bathtub. It isn’t Dr. Qing Li’s fault, it is I.T. coming between me and the forest. I, like everybody else, have become a little alien to who I once was. I too have taken that giant step towards moving beyond my humanness. For my French student friends, the last paragraph here:
Quand je mets le pied sur la ‘toile’ je me sens partir du monde que j’adore. Je choisis, bien sûr, Le “TI” en préférence au temps passé avec amis, et j’essaie de ne pas saisir cette brosse à cheveux souvent. J’ai le sens d’être volée de ma balade en bois, convertie en baignoire. Ce n’est pas la faute du docteur Qing Li; c’est la technologie informatique me séparant de la forêt. Moi, comme tout le monde, je suis devenue un peu éloignée de celle que j’étais autrefois. J’ai pris, comme tous les autres, ce pas de géant qui me mène au delà de mon humanité