Je ne sens pas en sécurité


I was sleepy and lethargic, but I didn’t want our drive to Rivière-Rouge to end. Besides the fact that I felt an unparalleled level of physical and emotional comfort with my nieces sitting on each side of me (comfy pillows for me to sleep on, let’s be real), the naturesque sceneries were too beautiful to be true. But that’s countryside Quebec for you: a real beauty. And for me, it was my ideal place to spend my summer — my life.

Seeing my parents’ home in small town L’Annonciation, in Quebec’s countryside where they had first settled in 1980, was a surreal and heart-warming experience for me. It was there that my parents had earned their living and adopted a new language and culture upon arrival in Canada. As for my brother (keep in mind we’re twenty-three years apart), as the only Asian kid in a White countryside in the early eighties, he had many tales to tell, too. Some sad, some funny, some embarrassing — all of which made for smiles and laughs in retrospect.

I think everyone cried tears of joy when we arrived at the home, especially my parents and their sponsors who haven’t seen each other in over thirty years. It was my first time meeting Rolande, Laurette, husband and wife Gilles and Huguette, and their children Martin and Nadine, and already, I felt a depth of love and gratitude for them (and also for my new furry four-legged pal). Prior to that, I had only exchanged sporadic letters with them from childhood onwards, and finally being face-to-face, we had many stories and updates to share.

Martin and Nadine were the children of the family, but they were my brother’s age: in their late forties. Frankly, I fell in love with them at first encounter, for they represented what I had never known. Before I was my parents’ child and my brother’s younger sister, they were my parents’ first children and my brother’s first siblings. They had known and loved my family at a time when I hadn’t even existed. I saw in their eyes a world of early warm memories, a world with which I longed to merge.

Sitting at the kitchen table, I felt as if I was reading a book — a memoir. I listened on as each individual, young and old, recounted stories of the past. For my sister and I, it was a learning of our parents’ and brother’s past; for my sister-in-law and her kids, it was a learning of a husband and father’s childhood experience. How sweet it is to learn that Nadine was my nieces’ age when she’d met my parents. Dad would call her Poupée because of her blonde hair and bright blue eyes, and she’d cry, too, whenever my parents came to visit and forgot to give her hugs and kisses.

Like Nadine when she was a child, my nieces were unbelievably shy. Victoria even poked her head underneath her mom’s shirt when we arrived at the house. But when they finally felt comfortable, suddenly the farm became their oyster. They enjoyed the vast acres of farmland and found joy in the little flowers sprouting from the grass and in the critters that inhabited nature’s womb. Except that Magaly isn’t as brave as her little sister. At the sight of a nearby spider on the front porch, she exclaimed, “Je ne me sens plus en sécurité!” and ran back inside. My sister and I, and even little Victoria, began our delicious fit of indiscreet laughter.

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After lunch with the family, Rolande took us out on a country-style drive around her farm to show us her husband Réjean’s outdoor projects, which he held dear to his heart before his passing. His beloved projects included his cabane à sucre where he’d make his own sirop d’érable, and an adorable hideaway cabane in the woods where he was able to sleep, cook, and eat. I listened as Rolande began shedding tears at each mention of his name, and my heart ached for her.

Again, we were one step too late. I wish I had met Réjean and was able to thank him for taking good care of my family at a time even before I came into existence. Yet even though I hadn’t met him, I felt his presence everywhere I tread on the farm: in the hollow winds whistling between leaves, in the rust of the axe that he had lovingly held, in the eyes and heart of his beloved wife. And I felt happy. I felt happy because I understood that what’s physically lost is never truly lost: it lives on in the cosmos — our hearts a doorway to the cosmos itself.

I didn’t want to leave; being here solidified my sense of belonging — that I could be embraced by something larger than myself, something unconditional, unswerving, loyal. Something that could point to me the way back to myself when I was lost and afraid. Here I found solace in gentle kindness — in a home in the countryside, in the hearts of my extended family, and in nature.

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