Parable of Life

Twice a week for the past year I’ve left the house at 8:30 for a long, unpredictable morning.

Right in front of our door I frequently run into Bakhta and Sultan. They’re already coming back from work, which for them starts very early. A smile, a good-day wish for all three of us…and I continue on to the end of our block. Sometimes Jacqueline calls to me from her balcony; sometimes it’s Janine coming home in her car who stops to update me on the state of her back…I should keep walking, but…!

I’m on Hochfelden, the big street that leads straight into town. To my left bicycles, cars and buses stream by. To my right lies a whole series of “encounters,” symbolic and interesting, telling the parable of life.

It begins at the “Early Childhood House” where very small children are going in and out. Sometimes, if I’m paying attention, I hear the clocktower of St. Florent Church ring 9:45 am. On I go! Children’s games…three slides of different heights remind me that gradually we grow up…

I cross over and go along the big Cronenbourg cemetery. Some of our neighbors and friends are buried there. One day I see Jacqueline inside watering flowers. I go in, and she’s “talking to” her son: “Jerome, I want you to meet the Italian little sister, Alessandra.” Then she turns to me and says, “Alessandra, this is my son, Jerome.” Since then I often look over the wall to say hello to Jerome…

I go on further and my eyes fall on countless rows of crosses, all the same: a military cemetery. Sadly, in our world they will not be the last ones…

I slip through a little tunnel…two minutes of darkness and the light reappears…a little path through the grass, a canal, sometimes a couple of swans passing, sometimes the aroma of soup cooking…I follow it!

I reach the first buildings on the outskirts of the city, the spire of the Cathedral greets me from a distance, and finally I turn right onto Rempart St., which is rather busy at this hour.

After a good half-hour I arrive at “La Fringale” (“Craving”), the Strasbourg branch of “Restaurants of the Heart.” And I’m home. “Good morning, Allie, how are you?” “Ok, I’m fine, and you?” “Did you have a good weekend?” “Were there a lot of people this morning for breakfast?”

I find an apron and some gloves, and I take a look around. I also grab a tray, a knife, and a vegetable peeler, and I’m ready to attack the sacks of potatoes, carrots, and onions that await us! Sometimes five or six of us spend up to two hours at work around a long table…

Long silences, a cup of coffee, laughter… “Enough potatoes, we’re going to see them tonight in our dreams!… How about if you cut while I keep peeling?…Put them in the buckets and cover them with water, and then put them in the walk-in fridge! They’re for the day after tomorrow…Would you start preparing the bowls of fruit salad? At least 220 bowls!… I’ll go find the water pitchers…It’s ready, time to eat!”

Around 11 am we volunteers sit around the same long table. There are often twelve of us, sometimes fewer, sometimes more. “Delicious! Say thank you to the chef! …Service! It’s teamwork!” We are of different ages and cultural backgrounds, and each one has his or her own reasons for being there. The important thing is not doing something so much as creating a certain atmosphere…

The pleasure of a cup of coffee and the stock question, “Where are you today?” “At the reception desk…preparing the trays… ladling the soup…in the dining room…at the dishwasher…”

At noon, everything is ready. We can open up. And it’s the moment our eyes meet those of our guests, and we exchange a few words, get to know each other in a very simple way. It can happen that I ask the same question more than two hundred times in a row, “Do you like onions?” And that I get only six “no” answers, though I frequently hear, “Thank you, ma’am! Hello, Mami! Thank you, Mama! Shukran, ya haja!” And even “Ciao, bella!” I think my white hair makes people treat me with more solicitude.

At the final sitting a family with five children is still there at one of the tables. We start preparing to clean up. “I’ll go get the vacuum cleaner! No, the baby is sleeping, it’s better to use brooms!”

It all requires mutual attentiveness and a taste for teamwork. There’s no lack of stress and fatigue, but I know I can always ask for help when the situation gets to be too much for me!

Sometimes we sit around together for a few moments longer, sometimes I walk partway home with one or another of the volunteers… I walk slowly, the light is different, I’m anxious to get home…so many faces and voices inhabit me…the parable of life has become Flesh for me and in me…

L.Sr. Alessandra-Paola