Last Saturday, my wife and I attended a wedding in the French countryside, made possible because of experiences and lessons I learned when walking across America with my family.
Six years after completing our coast to coast walk across America, I met a young man named Vianney. He was visiting a host family in my hometown of Ventura through a cultural exchange program. Vianney was staying next door to a friend I was house sitting for. I immediately liked his outgoing personality and his enthusiastic embrace of California. He was 19 and I was 20.
I was impressed with how well he had mastered English and especially expressions of everyday slang that are not taught in the classroom, but only through interaction with Americans in their day to day lives. Vianney had also mastered some of the more passionate English words and expressions that unfortunately resulted in misunderstanding and offense to his host family.
A few days after meeting Vianney, I saw him again. This time he was standing on the curb in front of his host family's house with all of his luggage. I asked him what was going on. Vianney passionately expressed his misery, confusion, and anger at being kicked out his host family's home. Now he was facing homelessness two full weeks before his flight was to send him back to France. He didn't know what he was going to do.
During the school year, I was living in Santa Barbara to attend Westmont College. When I met Vianney, it was August, 1993. I had just signed a lease with two of my former roommates on an apartment in Santa Barbara. Without hesitation, I told Vianney that he could stay with us. We had a couch he was welcome sleep on for the duration of his stay before the flight home. We have had an enduring friendship ever since that fateful day.
Several times during the walk across the United States, people opened their hearts and homes to my family. Because of those experiences, I learned by their generous examples to open my life to the people placed in my path.
Last Summer, Vianney again visited my home in Ventura. This time he brought a very special woman named Sophie, that he had been dating for five years. Cathleen and I were instantly moved by her joyful spirit and how she interacted with Vianney. We could tell that their relationship made them each better people. We could also see that they truly loved each other. During their visit, Vianney proposed to Sophie and they were married last week in Saint-Syr-Sur-Loire, France.
A few months back, Cathleen and I received an invitation in the mail to attend Vianney and Sophie's wedding. I had been saving frequent flyer miles for twelve years and this was the perfect opportunity to finally use them! Cathleen and I were unlikely honored guests at a French wedding because of the enduring friendship of a Frenchman and an American.
A week before their church wedding, Sophie and Vianney hosted Cathleen and me in their home near Paris. They were married civilly at the local municipality in May. The church wedding and reception are the traditional completion of French marriage. We were delighted and moved that Sophie was able to serve several special traditional French meals for us despite getting ready for the biggest day of her life. We enjoyed their hospitality and the time we were able to share with them very much.
Vianney's father and mother, Roland and Bernadette hosted Cathleen and me, just two nights before the wedding. Sophie stayed in our same room the very next day before she was to be married. Despite having friends and family coming in from all over France, Roland and Bernadette made time to prepare a special barbecue dinner complete with local Vouvray sparkling wine. Over the years they have hosted me on five separate occasions and have become my French family. Despite the fact that my French vocabulary had increased to only a few words, they have welcomed me and shared their hospitality, generosity and love over the years.
The wedding was magical. Cathleen and I stayed on the grounds of Chateau de Jallanges where the reception and dinner took place. Roland told me it was commissioned by King Louis X1 for his chief of staff and was as old as Christopher Colombus's discovery of America. The church in which Vianney and Sophie were married was visited by Saint Martin who lived in the Loire valley. The day was historic and beautiful in so many ways. We wish Sophie and Vianney a long and joyous life together. We pray that Roland and Bernadette will soon have more grandchildren.