Five years ago I was newly divorced and homeless. I had to start my life all over again. One of the biggest obstacles I faced at that time was finding an apartment. Actually, finding it was not the problem, having the funds to rent it was another story. I have lived in other countries and it is pretty straight forward, but in France (of course!) it's very difficult. The agencies stipulate you must have three times the rent—which most couples will just about be able to cover—so the agency/proprietor will not get stiffed. Basically if you look good on paper then you're in.
During this period I must have visited 30 places and was either looked at with mild amusement or laughed out the door. One place that I'll never forget was the snooty old lady who looked at me and my daughter, dripping wet from the torrential rain outside, and waved us off like we were beggars. In essence I was. Time was short and resources shorter. I kept searching and one day got a tip from a cousin of mine who told me of a number she'd found on a private listing. I called them up (my French was nowhere near as fluent as it is now) and got myself a meeting with them that very same evening. It turned out to be a couple, which meant I wouldn't be relying on paperwork and some formal conversation with a bored looking guy in a suit whose time I was eating up. I arrived at their door to realize it was a big three-story house in the area that I loved. Classy looking place, ya know? Buzzing me in I saw two elegant, straight-backed people descending with smiles on their faces and hands proffered. Marité and Pierre. I hadn't the slightest idea that this meeting would change the course of my life, and theirs.
I thought to myself, This is my chance, if I can just charm them a little and show them that I'm a decent guy who will be worth taking a shot on, then I might just get in. Every egg I had was in their basket. They showed me the place. It had one room which was the living-room and bedroom, a kitchen and a shower. It was one of those places where you could could cook a meal, have a shower, and watch TV all at the same time. I fell in love with it the minute I saw it and I fell in love with them, too. I explained my situation and—neglecting to tell them that I had two kids I would be having over every other week—told them I was their guy. I didn't have three times the rent, heck I didn't even have double the rent, but I guaranteed them I'd never let them down. I sweated for a week as they interviewed other candidates—I would find out years later that most of them had way better jobs than I thus had way more money than I—and lucked out when Marité called me up and said I was in!
I spent two years at that place and although it was cramped with three of us living there every second week, it was home! Marité and Pierre were in their mid seventies and the more I got to know them, the more they asked me to do odd jobs around the building. I'd clean their garage, carry up bottles of wine from the cellar, fix the TV or computer, or just hang out and talk. Their story was amazing. Pierre had been a French judo champion, medal of valor recipient in the Algerian War, and had run a huge bistro in Paris that was the place to be. He always recounted the story of his Irish patrons. “They loved to drink, but they never left a bill unpaid. The most honest people I've ever met.” Part of me thought it was what helped me get my foot in the door, but the deeper our friendship got I realized him and his wife loved the underdog. Their whole lives were dedicated to helping those who needed it most. I met many of their friends and peers at dinners they hosted and through conversations found out that their adoption of me was only one story in volumes of lives they had helped change. My favorite memory of our dinners is the night Marité told the story of Pierre's kidney transplant—I had to drag the story out of her and it probably would not have come to light had another guest not mentioned it. Marité had given Pierre a kidney and both of them were prepped side by side, went under side by side and when they woke were side by side. What a story! To give a part of yourself to sustain the life of the person you love more than anyone else. I was weeping at the table.
Yesterday, amongst the family and the closest of friends, we lowered Pierre into the ground. He was 79 years old. I was privileged to have known him for 4 years and even after I got married and left that apartment, I was back regularly to help them out and learn from their pure, kind hearts. Speaking to his family and friends yesterday I heard the same sentiment again and again. There was no greater or more honorable man than Pierre. The shock of him leaving way before any of us expected is a huge thing to process. Without being trite or cliché he left an indelible mark on everyone he met. I lost it yesterday when a dear friend of theirs told me they looked on me as a son. I now truly know that love and caring for those who need it most is the true measure of our time here. I'll never be able to pay you back, Pierre, and I'll never forget how you saved me and took me in when I'd just about given up on life.