In the wake of France’s dark hour, we weep for her. But now I want to focus on France’s past contributions to the world, and know that these cowardly acts of Friday, November 13, 2015, will not define her future. So I will focus on, not the devastation, of which we have seen so much, but upon the men and women who have established French national character.
It was a Frenchman who has likely been responsible for saving more lives than any other mortal in history: Louis Pasteur. Renowned for discovering the causes and preventions of disease, his method of treating milk and wine for contamination and keeping them in sealed flasks, is what we now know as pasteurization. He also created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax. He is also known as the father of microbiology. and helped prove that germs are the basis of disease. He discovered so much about the microbial world and how it interacts with human health, that it would take a book to even scratch the surface of all his advances in modern medicine. And yet, Louis Pasteur lived in the 19th century — from his birth on December 27, 1822 — to his death September 28, 1895.
It was a Frenchman who, in the more modern era, led the world on a lifelong adventure on the high seas: Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a French naval officer, researcher, conservationist, scientist, and on and on. He was also a film maker and took us with him on his research vessel, a former Royal Navy minesweeper called “Calypso”
“The sea”, Couseau said, “once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
It was a Frenchman who was a major founder of the French Impressionist movement: Claude Monet, who painted many landscapes of the same view to capture the changes in light and seasons. He was one of several painters who broke the hold of the Solon de Paris as the “only” venue for young artists. Monet and other artists were breaking away from the established order of what defined art. Monet was the son of a grocer who did not support his son’s gift. But that son left the world a legacy of beauty.
It was a Frenchman who helped get fleeing Jews out of the hands of the Nazis in World War II: Abbe Pierre was a French Catholic priest and a member of the French Resistance. Born into a wealthy family on August 5, 1912, he dedicated his life to helping the poor, the homeless, and the plight of refugees, founding the Emmaus movement in 1949. He made the decision to become a priest before age 16 when he became aware of the deplorable circumstances of the underprivileged. Well known at one time in France, his name has now faded somewhat since his death on 22 January 2007. But I’ll bet the people who haved lived to raise families and have homes have not forgotten him. At least I hope not. A man of action,
Abbe Pierre was known to say: It’s not enough to attend church and pray every Sunday; you have to act.
It was a French maiden who led an army to victory when she responded to the voice of God to lead them. Joan of Arc has since become the most well-known French name in the world. Even today’s teenagers know the name of Joan of Arc, where they might not know any other. I love the documentary of this God-touched heroine. And, yes, I truly believe she was.
It was a Frenchman, a brave and intensely fervent patriotic man, who later became President of France: Charles de Gaulle. A French soldier, he was wounded twice in World War I, was captured at Verdun, and became a prisoner of war, from which he unsuccessfully tried to escape several times. He was released at the end of the war. In World War II, De Gaulle refused to accept France’s surrender to Hitler, and lead the French resistance. Having fled to England, he became close to Winston Churchill and broadcast a message across the English channel to his compatriots to resist the Germans. He also organized French soldiers to fight alongside the allied troops.
I have enjoyed each and every one of these videos and hope you will too. I couldn’t find a good one for Pasteur, so I decided not to bore you with any of them.
There was so much about these historic figures I did not know and I enjoyed learning. I know there are lots of other figures I could include — authors like my all-time favorite, Alexandre Dumas, and others There are also many great actors and actresses. And, of course, Charlemagne and Napoleon, but their personalities were too big to be contained in this little article.
So now, let us bow our heads and pray for France and her people and leaders, and for the families and friends of the victims.