Greetings from Paris! Twenty-seven years ago, when I was living in my native Melbourne, I met Andrew on the phone. I’d been introduced to him by email through a friend as I was looking for some esoteric advice for a essay I was writing as part of a Masters degree at Melbourne in 1997. A three hour conversation with Andrew ensued, and at the end of that call, Andrew said, “If you lived closer, it would be great to have lunch”, to which I replied, “We can have lunch.” “Where?” he said. “How about…. Paris?” I said. A few weeks and only one phone call later (I didn’t want to become too acquainted, just in case) we met at Paris airport at 9:15am not having any idea what each other looked like. I only had the jacket color as a clue. (peach…)  By 3:45pm that afternoon we were engaged. We have come back to this magical city a number of times, and here we are for our 25th wedding anniversary. It was clear to us that day long ago that there was only one thing to do and that was to take our place, which is just another way of saying that when one’s place is shown, there’s a happy obligation to one’s destiny to take that place and not look back. A serious commitment to doing that on a daily basis is the only assurance that one is on track and can therefore meet the challenges, both serious and joyful, and even meet the tragedies, with a sense of groundedness and meaning.

Incidentally, that is the very stuff of the Eight Extraordinary channels.

When people are actively taking their place as a way of life, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. We are in Paris for only five days but this city is a perfect place to observe the phenomenon of taking one’s place with dignity, focus, concentration, and pride. Here, waiters, drivers, bakers, seamstresses, are each engaged in a vocation, not “a job”. This means that every detail and every action is carried out with care and a certain elegance of combined skill and purpose. It’s beautiful and deeply appreciated by the populace. We saw a woman on a bicycle this morning riding past several bakeries and passing us on her return with a single brown paper wrapped baguette in her basket. We could sense her joy in going to the trouble to reach that one particular baker, and, as the French do, her delight in the ritual of quality.

A week ago I watched about thirty-five people take their destined place on our property in Connecticut. It was also incredibly inspiring. In order to build a small garden bed in front of the house to plant black-eyed susans and seedum for the summer, we needed three cubic yards of concrete for the foundation of its small retaining wall. Our contractor, Dave, had the concrete delivered, rather than have the guys mix it in a wheelbarrow, so that the concrete could be dropped as a continuous pour, thereby ensuring the strength of the slender wall’s foundation. So the smallest possible cement mixer truck came up the steep drive. Our son, Ravi, happened to be there that day and watched the truck’s approach from the dining room window while I made a painting at the table, facing the other way. As the truck approached the top of the driveway, the truck’s brakes failed. Ravi drew a sharp breath and turned to me. “Mom! The cement mixer slid down the driveway and went over the embankment! It’s gone!” The drop from the wide bank at the side of the driveway down to the stream is about seventy-five feet, so I couldn’t really imagine anything that wasn’t dire. We all ran outside. Andrew embarked on the slow trek to the driver. It would take him ten minutes to hike it in switchbacks. The truck had slid all the way to the stream. In one of the happiest sights of a lifetime, miraculously, the driver emerged completely unscathed and with no concussion. Andrew sat with him chatting to check him out and telling jokes as only Andrew can, while I did what little I could and went inside to make tea and cook rice and beans.

If the driver had been hurt, the tenor of the next eight hours would have been very different. Instead, what happened was in its way a magnificent show of everyone taking their place in a very matter of fact, non-heroic and yet very heroic way, with the same pride, dignity, and sense of purpose that is such a beautiful aspect of humanity.

One by one, people came to take their places. First, two ambulances plus another emergency vehicle, then three police cars, then the county sheriff, a representative from the town, then the man who ploughs our snow to see if he could help, then two full volunteer fire brigades, one from each of the local towns and all their trucks and men and one woman. Then came a tow truck and a flat bed truck, both of which left when they saw the magnitude of the situation, then the owner of the cement mixer company, then two officers from the EPA who put magical absorbent foam in the stream to mop up any petroleum products which might leak and to monitor water samples, then more ambulances and more police to stand by as the operation was deemed perilous. We live in a tiny hamlet of five houses and each time another vehicle arrived it would take its place in a neighbor’s driveway until all the long driveways were full of flashing lights. Then, when we thought not a single vehicle more could fit, two absolutely giant machines, Big Bessies we called them (after the giant machine in the first Cars movie, one of my favorites) arrived in all their glory. I’ve never seen such machines. These were massive trucks with huge cranes on top, many doors and tons of bells and whistles. The main one was brand spanking new with six axles, covered in flashing yellow, blue and red lights and weighing 110,000 pounds, or 50 tons. It cost 1.9 million dollars, and arrived fully manned. Bessie couldn’t get around the first curve on the driveway and stood there for hours while a cohort of treefellers came to cut down several beautiful trees flanking the driveway. I didn’t know that when the State sends rescue vehicles to your property they have absolute carte blanche. There’s no “Mr and Mrs Sterman, so sorry, but we have to cut down these 100 year old trees.” They just forge forth. But it had to be done.

Then a medium sized caterpillar and three tip trucks each carrying five cubic yards of crushed rock turned up to fill in the bend on the driveway so that Big Bessie could make the turn and ascend to the location of the accident. The neighbors gathered. It was quite a scene.

But what was thrilling to me as a keen people watcher and human being lover was seeing people together on the job all day, well into darkness, fully concentrating and enjoying each others’ skills. Everyone was watching everyone else with focused admiration. The fire crew watched the Big Bessie men way down in the gully for several hours, clearing the many trees broken by the sliding truck, carefully steadying the truck by bracing it against trees, clamping the fuel and brake lines before detaching the drum which was precariously lopsided with ten tons of now solid concrete in it, and then, over a long period, winch the truck up the side of the mountain until it was dangling in mid air, like a rear view mirror ornament, over the driveway—a very forlorn and crumpled former vehicle. When Big Bessie was fully extended with crane and winches over the cliff edge, even with its massive stabilizers extended, her left side lifted a full six inches off the ground. Fifty tons listing was, I have to say, a little unnerving. If it, too, were to tip, what could possibly perform that rescue…? But thirty-five minds were on it in unison.

Since that day a week ago, we’ve found ourselves talking about it quite a bit. Why so compelling? What is so humanly captivating about such a day? We live in such a bickering world. People argue, people judge. Families are stressed to breaking, towns and schools, and states and nations are failing the stress tests of our times. And what we saw that day was as far from that as can be imagined. When we see the true intensity of life, something changes. No one asked anyone else about who they were or for their views. Everyone just worked together and looked out for each other in the process. It shouldn’t take a crisis to remind us to to exist in a  true awareness of the way things are. The true nature of human beings is unlimited light. It’s plain to see.

Ann Cecil-Sterman
Paris, France.
January 5, 2024

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter for blog updates, company updates, exclusive offers and more. Join the thousands of other advanced acupuncture practitioners in bettering themselves and their careers.

Share this post with your friends

Leave a Comment