Friday, July 29, 2016

Letters in Troubled Times - Part Three: A Letter from WWI Paris

I spent last week with my daughter and we continued to discuss the quandary young mothers feel living in the current global unrest.

"On one hand," my daughter, April said, " we moms want to gather our children, hunker down, and quietly live our lives.  We want to shield, nurture and shelter them, existing under the radar.  But, when we do that we ignore the plight of mothers in Syria, Libya and other middle east countries who don't have the luxury of deciding which sport to enroll their child in this fall, or which extracurricular activity they will elect or which dance class they'll attend.  Their greatest concern is protecting their children from abduction, starvation and genocide. Stable and secure shelter is something they only dream about.  And we are bound by this world-wide sisterhood of mothers to do something."

Mother Protecting Her Child - Jean-Baptiste Camille Coron

She continued, "I'm considering going to Brussels to help with the refugee situation, but my three children could lose a mother. It's a disturbing dilemma with which we constantly wrestle."

I agreed. For certain, passivity is akin to complicity.

I also reminded her that soon after she was born, her father and I stopped serving at an orphanage near Tijuana, Mexico. We took her once as a baby and couldn't handle having our vulnerable infant so close to the filth ever present at the orphanage. For us, the monthly mission to Mexico ended.

So, how do we conduct ourselves compassionately, yet safely in an age of terrorism and injustice? How do we maintain our own mental health when fear torments daily? How do we balance compassion for the world, and caring for our own families?

Here is a letter written in 1916 during WWI from a woman in Paris to a great, great aunt of mine.  It  gives a first hand account of how one (single) woman handled the stress of imminent warfare.

Mme Sigot
Go Rue de Fillol
Puteaux, Seine, France

December 16, 1916

Dear Mrs Crompton, {Miriam Sears Crompton}

         I write this letter long before the end of the year so that you may receive it in time to get all the good wishes I am sending you for the coming Christmas and New Year.

 I hope you and Mr Crompton {Randolph Crompton, my great, great uncle} and Rosamond {my third cousin} will continue in good health and happiness all through the new year.

I shall be glad to hear from you soon.  I wonder where you are spending the winter, and how did that annoying chauffeur's business end? {Well, that's a problem I'll never have}!

As for me, I am still in Paris and have a few pupils to which I give lessons, just enough to live on, on condition of being very careful.  I am not exactly having a good time of it, but then, there are so many other people suffering much more than I do, that one must not complain.

My mother is pretty well, she will be 75 in two days!  I have had good news from my sister lately.  She is for the present in Madras, working in a large hospital, practising mid-wifery work, in order to be able to render more services on the mission field afterwards.  She is more and more devoted, heart and soul and body to the service of God and her dear Indians as she calls them.  I do believe my dear sister is more than half in heaven already!  She certainly is very happy, surely more than I who have not her faith.  I find that the circumstances of life are not exactly conducive to increase faith, rather the contrary.  And as for the terrible, awful things happening all round just now, well, one simply feels at a loss to understand.  Don't you?

I see my former little pupil, Germaine Thirsuin form time to time, either at her boarding school, or at her aunt's on Saturday night, where I am sometimes invited to dinner.  Her parents are coming from Vesqueville mext week, to spend three weeks in Paris, so I shall have the pleasure of seeing them.  Unfortunately, Germaine's father is ill, he has on an attack of acute neurasthma, which is on the verge of being madness, poor gentleman.  His wife wrote to me a week ago, she is very sad about it.

War news are not very bright lately, and one can't help being very anxious and uneasy, and sad.

In the evening Paris is so dark that it is difficult to go about unless you know exactly where you are.  But if you have to go to unfamiliar quarters, it is no good attempting to read the names of the streets of the number of the houses.  You can hardly distinguish the forms of the passers by and scarcely escape bumping into them!  It is unpleasant to be out after four o-clock in the afternoon.  Yet, I have to be sometimes, as distances are long and some of my lessons are far from here.  I am still at the same hotel I was in October, near the Madeleine, close to the reu de l'Arcade, you remember?  I go and spend Sundays at Puteaux with my mother.

I hope you received my last letter of Oct 24th and I should just love a long letter from you, Dear Mrs Crompton.  Now I must stop, with my best wishes to all, my love to Rosamond and yourself.

Yours very sincerely,

Marguerite Sigot

 
Paris, June, 1916 - Wikimedia.com



I have no other record of Marguerite Sigot and how this friend of my great grandaunt's fared during the remainder of the war.

But it is comforting to know that exactly 100 years ago another woman thought similar thoughts, struggled with similar questions, and somehow adapted to life even when the world was falling apart around her.



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