I am reading the book Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott. I am thinking about what mercy means and I am thinking about how many different forms mercy takes.
This story is about my French friend, Jeanne G. I lived with Jeanne for about a year in 1992-93. Jeanne was retired from Wall Street and had a darling house, it looked like a cottage inside and out. Jeanne also had a great cat named Feefe. We had lovely conversations over dinner each night. Jeanne told me about life in France and life in New York City and she had many, many stories to tell.
We lived together during the last big New York State blizzard in 1993. With snow pouring from the sky, Jeanne rustled up the best shrimp dish I have ever eaten. We sat on opposite ends of her dining table all set up with the best China and I loved the celebratory feel of that snow storm.
Jeanne’s house was cozy, the living room invited you in and I sat during that snow storm reading People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck with eyes wide open. I thumbed through Vogue and People, grew my hair out, and got contacts…my life was changing in the protection of this sweet cottage one mile from my job.
A theme for Jeanne as she told her stories about people was luck. Luck, really? I remember thinking, So unAmerican…don’t we all just pull ourselves up from whatever happy horse shi__ we happen to fall in and live the Dream with the white picket fence and the 4th of July fireworks.
Not from Jeanne’s perspective. She would tell me vignettes…oh, this person, she had luck in life, then she had no luck, then she had luck again. She might be telling me about some poor woman who worked all her life and had nothing to show for it in the end. “A good person, no luck in life.” And then, another person, “Oh her husband divorced her, but he was wealthy and gave her very good alimony, she had a lot of luck in life, lived to be 92 and died peacefully in her sleep.”
When the Iraq war broke out (before I lived with Jeanne), I asked her if she was worried, she said, “No, I lived through World War II.” Her stories of World War II included her work in the resistance, hunting for beet roots in a war-torn country, and the pale that settles over everyone when war is fought on your land.
One day, Jeanne said to me, “You will have to move out by the end of the month. My cousins are coming from France and I need your bedroom.”
I was heartbroken. I loved my happy place at Jeanne’s. I loved her cat Feefe who stayed up with me all night when I was sick. The day I left, she was on her front walk, and she said, “Claire, I’ wish you all the best in life. Good luck to you.”
I felt like I’d never see her again, and indeed, in the context of roommate relationships, I never did. But we remained friends as the years rolled forward. In 2000, one of the last times I saw Jeanne, she, her daughter (a dear friend) and I went for a long walk and picked blackberries on our trail. The trail at my house where I met my husband in 1995.
“Claire,” Jeanne said. “See how lovely everything turned out for you. I knew if you stayed with me, things would not have been good for you.”
“You did?” I was stunned. “Yes, you could have stayed there forever, I had the room, the cousins were only coming for a visit from France, but I knew you needed to leave. And look at your luck.”
Luck indeed. I like to think as I read this book by Anne Lamott, there is a little bit of mercy thrown in…RIP Jeanne G.