Michiana Chronicles: Nicolas
Twenty-eight years ago, my brother Olivier, his wife Valérie, and their newborn son, Nicolas, became a family of their own. Our disciplinarian parents spontaneously embraced the liberating role of grandparents under the jovial monikers of Mamie Coco and Papi Jeannot. My sisters and I raised a champagne glass to the new, promising title of aunty and danced as one to the chatoyant rhythms of its anticipated responsibilities thanks to Nicolas, the first-born of his generation.
Our heads were spinning with multi-generational perspectives as my brother walked my mother and I to the commuter train after we had welcomed our one-day old kin. The conductor had opened the doors of each drab, musty carriage to both the platform and the tracks, in an attempt to brighten up the train with the draft of some crisp Spring cheer. As we were ready to get on board, a swift young man snatched the bag of a distracted older lady and flung it to his pal as they jumped onto the tracks. My brother darted off after these gazelle lads. I launched after him, yelling in disbelief, “Train tracks? Quit chasing the old bag already, you’re a dad now! Come back!” Stolen bags had taken many forms in my brother’s life. As his younger sisters, we had debated between supporting and cautioning our justice-seeking brother as the situations arose. We were both protective of our big brother and critical of his protective impulse. To my amazement, Olivier slowed down that day and turned around. As he jogged back to us, I remembered him as a five-year-old boy insisting on being signed up for Judo lessons to defend his sisters around the sandbox. My mother tried to reason with his furrowed brows, “You may attend Judo, but let’s agree on this: watching over your sisters is my job, not yours.” It was the 1970s in the South of France, we were watching the martial arts television series Kung Fu and my brother was the Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Cain played by David Carradine. That’s how he rolled and there was no wrestling the grasshopper out of him. As his sisters, we were the descendants of two World War II babies: a feminist and a pacifist. As such, we were getting acquainted with the active role of being the objects of our brother’s protective attention and that of standing as vocal witnesses and critics of his protective engagement. Much later, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s stance that “the legislature works all over the place protecting women” at her US Supreme Court confirmation hearing in response to Senator Arlen Specter would strike a cord. Paradoxically, after the passing of our parents, my siblings, their children, and I learned to step away from reciprocal protectiveness, to embrace instead mutual support of each other’s distinct nature, needs, and aspirations. The result has been fluid, generous, non-hierarchical support and attention. It isn’t perfect, but this seems to work for us.
Unlike his father, Nicolas does not have an affinity for martial arts, but somehow, like his dad, he’s a justice-seeking grasshopper all the same. He recently opted for his own form of Judo, his own “gentle art,” by picking up singing. When Nicolas and I discussed his song “Espoir,” or “hope” in English, he highlighted his core belief in altruism, the sanctity of human connections, and the hope that arises when these are manifested in our daily lives. For Nicolas, singing is about sharing emotions on the stage and providing a moment of respite to his audience during difficult times. He does this too in his new job caring for homebound patients with mental illnesses and physical impairments. Needless to say, Nicolas is one of the cool cats in our family. He has always been emphatically polite and formal. On his very first flight overseas, he discreetly called the attention of the flight attendant and respectfully reported, “Dinner was excellent. Please give my compliments to the chef.” When asked about autism, Nicolas has little to report except that it may cause an individual to act differently than expected. Well, isn’t acting and thinking differently than the norm exactly what artists do? My compliments to you, gentle, generous, and stellar Nicolas. Keep enchanting and surprising us! For Michiana Chronicles, this is Anne Magnan-Park.
Music: Nicolas Magnan, “Espoir”