A small miracle on France’s Election Day

By Jack Cashill

This past Sunday, Election Day in France, I was doing some editing and intermittently checking the (discouraging) French results, when I heard French being spoken outside my lakeside cottage.

It seemed oddly coincidental that my neighbor would have French friends visit on Election Day, but I paid the conversation little mind.

Moments later, however, the neighbor stopped by and asked me to come speak to these people. They weren’t friends. They were strangers who just showed up.

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I happily obliged. Rare is the opportunity for me to speak with people whose English is worse than my French.

As Antoine explained, he and his wife, Gabrielle, and 8-year-old daughter, Rose, were driving from Pittsburgh, where his sister lived, to Niagara Falls.

Taking the lake route from Erie to Buffalo, about a hundred-mile stretch, they turned up our street on a whim to get a better look at Lake Erie.

There were hundreds of streets they might have chosen, but they chose ours and voila! – here was someone who could speak to them. Quelle coincidence!

The coincidences, we all saw, were building to something beyond coincidence. For starters, they lived in Antibes, in the south of France, a place I knew well.

I told them how years ago, when my family and I were staying in Nice for a week, I went looking for a sandy beach for my toddler and stumbled across a little spot on Cap d’Antibes called the “Plage de la Garoupe.”

Later, doing research on F. Scott Fitzgerald, I learned that his wealthy patrons, Sarah and Gerald Murphy, carved this sandy stretch out of the area’s rocky coasts.

The Murphys made the plage the summer place to be for the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso and others among the rich and famous.

In 2016, wanting to avoid the noise around the election, I voted absentee and headed back to Antibes to visit the Plage de la Garoupe and bury my head in the sand.

It proved so felicitous a plan, I repeated it for the 2018 election and the 2020 election, which, unfortunately, I had to cancel due to COVID hysteria.

Coincidentally, the Plage de la Garoupe was the favored spot for Antoine and his family. I should have known. I invited him and his family in for drinks. My wife, Joan, joined us.

As Antoine explained, he was not from Antibes originally but from a small village in northeast France that he was sure I had never heard of, an obscure town of 8,000 people called Malzéville.

Now my head was spinning. The year we visited Nice, I told Antoine, we lived in Malzéville. I had a Fulbright grant to teach at a nearby university. Now his head was spinning too.

If I understood right, his father was mayor of Malzéville during the time we lived there. Although his father had died, his mother still lived there, but, alas, she has dementia.

“So does our president,” I said ruefully.

Antoine explained that he was now 52 years old and regretted that he could not be of more help to his poor mother.

“Did you say you were 52?” I asked. I was never very good with French numbers. Yes, he was. I was shocked. “I would have guessed 32. You seem so young and healthy.”

Antoine sighed and looked at Gabrielle across the table, wondering, I suspect, if he should tell his story. “Not everything is as it seems,” he said.

Antoine pointed to his arm, amputated at the elbow, that he carried in a sling. So effervescent was the guy I barely noticed.

Two years ago, he told us, while mountain biking he took a spill and wounded his elbow. French health care being as “horrible” as it is, the doctors failed to stem a vicious infection that was now eating away at his body.

Antoine then pulled up his pant legs to reveal two artificial limbs. The infection would continue to eat away at his extremities including his nose and ears.

The doctors gave him either deux ans or douze ans, two years or twelve to live. I chose not to ask for clarification.

A naturally athletic guy, Antoine continues to walk heroic distances every day. He enthusiastically showed his pedometer to confirm his effort.

“I admire your tenacity,” I told him, moved almost to the point of speechlessness.

“I try,” he said, “but there are days I can do nothing but cry.” Tearing up, Gabrielle nodded her head in affirmation.

We had one more point of extraordinary coincidence. The year we lived in Malzéville my 2-year-old daughter, Margaret, fell off her bike and infected her elbow.

After some cursory care at a nearby clinic, Margaret awoke the next morning with a 105 degree temperature and an arm swollen to her shoulder like a sausage.

I took her into the nearby Children’s Hospital at 8 a.m. and was told I had just missed the “grand patron.” He would be back at 5 p.m. to make his rounds. In the meantime, Margaret was to lie in a bed untreated.

As the French were about to understand, there is no force in nature quite like an American parent denied.

I will spare the details here, but I turned total a**hole for the next two hours and had Margaret in surgery by 10 a.m. That surgery saved her arm and, as I see now, maybe her life.

As I saw at the Children’s Hospital, people who live in socialized systems often lack the instinct to fight the system. I wish I knew Antoine when he needed an American a**hole by his side, but I didn’t.

Knowing his story now, I would ask for prayers for Antoine, Gabrielle and la petite Rose. This wasn’t coincidence at work here I am convinced. This was providence.

If this article is passed along to an American doctor who knows something the French don’t, we may move the dial from providential to miraculous.

Note: You can contact Jack through his website, Cashill.com. His new book, “Ashli: The Untold Story of the Women of January 6,” is now available in all formats.


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