Take-Out, the Terrace, and the Long Tail of Desperation

We’ve all been there.  A loved one is sick or in need but because you live across the country or in another country, you feel helpless to provide any practical support.  It’s a desperate feeling.  

This past fall I got a FB message from the wife of a old work colleague who had taken that desperate feeling in Seattle and turned it into virtual action.  Her Dad was going through prostate cancer treatment in London and so she reached out to the handful of people she knew living in London and asked if any of us might be willing to bring him a meal.  Take-out was fine, text was not.  A proper phone call would be best.  People responded immediately. 

That’s how I met John and his partner George.  It was a quick drop off of Syrian food at their flat in Covent Garden, but even in the eye of the treatment storm, they beamed with appreciativeness and interest.  It was late October and I had just recently come back from signing the papers on our new holiday house in France and mentioned it in passing. Through a few follow up questions - Condom as our nearest town always gets a rise - we discovered that they had a very close English friend who also had a holiday house in the same region (the Gers) of South West France.

Fast forward to last Tuesday when my phone rang as I was driving on the outskirts of Condom.  It was John.  The connection wasn’t good but through his more tech savvy daughter, I knew he and George were in the Gers visiting their friend Allison.  After playing cell phone coverage cat and mouse, they invited me over to Allison’s house the next day.  They kindly invited the boys too but with the combination of their cycling plans and the tangential line connecting this 60+ crowd to any person they remotely knew, I let them coast pass this invitation.

This time I showed up with a bottle of Rose.  Allison’s house was only a 15 minute drive from my house, which in the French countryside, is to say we are nearly neighbours.  The first stroke of serendipity.  

As I was introducing myself to Allison in her beautifully renovated farmhouse at the edge of a countryside hamlet, she asked whereabouts in London I lived.  As I started to geolocate my London house with landmarks very unlike the open fields we were looking at, she flashed with recognition. She had lived in the same neighbourhood years ago.  But when she said the name of the street, I nearly choked on my Rose.  In a city of nearly 9 million people, we lived on the exact same small terrace street of only 22 houses, only 15 years apart.  She lived in #2 and I now live in #20. Needless to say, the second stroke of serendipity came in with swagger.

It was delightful to spend time with John, George and Allison - who are all fascinating and warm people — and talk about further get togethers both in London and France.  They sent me off with the fill of some wonderful stories, including tales of John’s 70th destination birthday party in India now 10 years in the rear view mirror.  They also sent me with directions to a farmer down the road whose fresh basil was not to be missed.  Serendipity made sure I got their last bunch plus a free melon because “I was a friend of Allison.”

I couldn’t help but think that the compounding delight of the day started from a place of desperation.  How an email from a worried daughter in Seattle could be used to help someone meet their neighbour in the countryside of France.  This was a thread we could follow but there are so many unseen threads when someone rises up in love to help. 

Yesterday was the annual garden party for our terrace in London.  Having been the past two summers, I was sorry to miss it this year.   But then again, being with a terrace alumni in a garden of box-hedges, lavender and roses, maybe I didn’t miss it entirely.