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Monday, October 8, 2012

THE BON VIVANT: How to Live the Good Life in a Bad Economy

Or Grace Under Fire: The Role of the Handmaid of the Lord

by Susan Fox

I recently moved to Colorado, and everyone here is concerned that you are working.

“What do you do for a living?” they ask me. I am only 59. Certainly I couldn’t have already retired. But I did retire from a 12-year career as a newspaper reporter in 1991 so I could become a full-time mother, then a home-schooling mother, then a volunteer at Church, and now back to writing.

But it is very tedious to tell people I am a homemaker especially as things work in my home, I rarely do the cleaning. My husband does (and he has the job and is enrolled part time in graduate school.) And the child is grown, and sometimes helps me with the cooking.

So I decided to tell people that I am a “Bon Vivant.” It is French for living “the good life.” Technically, a person who enjoys superb food and drink. That describes me, too, except the drink I drink is Pellegrino and Iced Tea. 

I have degrees in French and Journalism plus two masters in Economics and International Trade and Finance, so I can use my education to describe myself as a “Bon Vivant.” Many people in Colorado struggle to pronounce it like I do. So there must be some advantage to being a “Bon Vivant.” Right?

Well, I thought to myself what really does a Bon Vivant do?
We are in the process of buying a house, and my realtor asked me to go into the back yard and see if the sprinklers were running. Glory be to God. Yes! I’ll run into the back yard to do that -- for that is exactly what a Bon Vivant does!

And the other day I was waiting in line to buy snow tires. Waiting in line for tires is very boring. I said,  “Lord, I’d much rather talk to people.”  So I saw a young man also waiting in line, looking bored. He wore a T-shirt that said, “Beer Security.” I said, “I like your T-shirt, what does it mean?” His eyes lighted up.  He turned into this absolutely gorgeous soul. He was so pleased I noticed him.  That must have been the purpose of my question as the young man didn’t know what “beer security” meant. But that I asked the question produced joy in his heart. It reminded me of the occasion when I yelled a question at President Ronald Reagan in the early years of his Administration when he was surrounded by cheering crowds, and he joyously yelled back, “I can’t hear you!” I did get to interview President Reagan, right? Never mind the question wasn’t exactly answered.

But as to the young man in the tire store, his joy convinced me we’ll be best buddies in heaven, I have added him to my prayer list. That is something a Bon Vivant does. She prays for other people.

So what else does a Bon Vivant do? Well, a Bon Vivant goes to the doctor a lot and fills out a lot of forms describing her numerous illnesses and lists her job as … you guessed it, “Bon Vivant.”

So there is an element of suffering in Bon Vivant’s life as it is very tedious to go to the doctor, arrive on time, find a parking space, sit in the waiting room, and again explain my ailments. But my doctors do not want me to see a psychiatrist because I always tell them I am not depressed. I don’t mind chronic minor pain, and that is all God has given me. I spend my life laughing at my son and husband’s jokes.

A Bon Vivant also spends time enjoying nature. As a full time mother, I raised kittens, baby hamsters and gold fish. I had a medicine cabinet full of fish antibiotics, some of which I ended up taking myself in later years when doctors prescribed it. I really knew how to raise happy hamsters, cats and gold fish. I used to sing, “Bubble Nose, Frisky and Christmas!” And three fat gold fish would come to the top of the tank to touch their nose to the Bon Vivant’s finger.

They were 25-cent gold fish, but they cost me a $1,000 in new tanks and medicine until we sold them some years later for $25 each. It was a big profit, n’est-ce pas? Last summer I took over 500 photographs of baby swallows nesting on our patio ledge. I grew quite attached to the three little buggers, and made a movie from the photos (see it at www.youtube.com, Channel TestisFidelis). But this was really living the good life, as they were wild birds. All I had to do was photograph them. I didn’t clean their cages, didn’t give them $1,000 worth of medicine, and my son cleaned up their doo doo. Plus the movie I made became a living image of Psalm 84. So the Bon Vivant also praises God, and admires his handiwork in nature.

The Bon Vivant also spends money. That is her job. Grocery shopping, taxes, home buying, getting the yard work done, cars maintained and writing the check every Sunday to put in the basket, these are my jobs. But my husband is assigned the task to actually putting the check in the Sunday basket. It is his money after all. He earned it.

Now as a Bon Vivant, I have many weaknesses. I do occasionally complain. I have tried, but never succeeded in becoming the perfect wife or mother. Sometimes I hesitate on the amount when I sign the checks for the Church. I really need a model I can imitate to become a better Bon Vivant. I need someone who didn’t hesitate to love the Lord her God with her whole heart, mind and soul, even with her whole body.

So let me see, whom could I find as the true Bon Vivant in God’s Kingdom? What great saint lived the life of a Bon Vivant?  It has to be somebody who suffered and didn’t complain about it. I want a joyous homemaker, someone who tried to lovingly raise a son. She has to be a person who praises God, gives Him all the credit for what He does in her life. She prays for people, intercedes when they need something, like oh say … wine at a wedding. I want someone who will get excited and do God’s will immediately it is asked of her. She wouldn’t hesitate to run into the backyard and see if the sprinkler is running. Heck, she’d even agree to become the Mother of God if it was His will.

Ah, you guessed it. Mary, Mother of Jesus, was the perfect Bon Vivant.

How does Mary define herself? She didn’t use the words “Bon Vivant.” She said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” It means, “I am his serving girl.” She sees herself as God’s servant ready to do His will at a moment’s notice.

It isn’t the realtor who walks up to Mary and asks her to see if the sprinkler is running in the backyard. It is in fact an angel, who addresses her, “Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”

Instead of preening at the praise leveled at her by an angelic being, she is troubled, and wonders what sort of greeting this is. Now I don’t know about you, but most people in the Bible greeted by angels or visited by God (like Moses and the burning bush) are afraid. Mary is not. She is a true Bon Vivant. Bon Vivants are courageous. But unlike me, the reason she is not afraid is because she is sinless. Most of us don’t qualify, so we get to be scared when an angelic being approaches us for any reason whatsoever.

The angel doesn’t ask her anything simple like, oh I don’t know, “check the sprinklers in the back yard.” He tells her she will conceive a son in her womb and call Him Jesus. You have to remember this request is coming from God the Father because we learn in the Bible, “God so loved the world, He sent His only Son.” So Mary is being approached by a Divine Person, God the Father, First Person of the Blessed Trinity. This is very important moment, because if she says, “No,” we don’t get Jesus. We don’t get saved. Bad stuff happens.

The angel explains who Jesus is – He is Son of the Most High (code word for Son of God the Father). I’m whispering now.

And her only question is, “How can this be, I have no husband.” So he explains the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her. Voila!  The child will be called holy, the Son of God. Then he gives her a little bit of gossip to help her understand, nothing is impossible with God. In fact, he says, her cousin Elizabeth, who was thought barren, has also conceived a son in her old age.

God so loved the world He gave His only Son. And Mary’s response is astounding! “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word!” That girl knows who she is. She is a servant, a Bon Vivant ready to do anything God asks of her. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us!”

So we see Jesus is conceived from a relationship of love between a Divine Person, the Father, and a human person, Mary. The fruit of Mary’s relationship with God is so perfect that it begets by the power of the Holy Spirit the Son of God, Jesus Christ (Hint: the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.)

Well that doesn’t often happen in my garden, but I can see this is the perfect relationship for every person to have with God, a relationship of love that begets a willingness to say, “Yes,” even if that only means running into the back yard and checking the sprinklers.

Mary is my model for the Bon Vivant because she praises God and gives him all the credit. Again, Mary is full of charity. She doesn’t lie around and worry because she is pregnant with no human father in a culture where women are stoned to death for that exact circumstance. Instead, she rises and leaves in haste for the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Now Elizabeth was not hoity toity (pretentious, comes from the French haut toit, or high roof from which the pretentious look down on the “lower” classes). Filled with the Holy Spirit, she greets Mary, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Why is it granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Hmmm, I am going to have to consider St. Elizabeth, as another model for the Bon Vivant because that is how any self-respecting Bon Vivant should feel when visited by the Mother of God.  

But now Mary gives praise to God for what He has done for her: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior  … for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” She admits that all generations will call her blessed, but it is all God’s doing. She is just his lowly Bon Vivant. She doesn’t have a degree, work 40 hours a week, earn a wage, support her husband, invent new technology, practice medicine, make gourmet meals every night … she simply lives in God’s love and does what He asks.

Now when it comes time to buy the tires in the tire store, whoops I mean attend a wedding in Cana, Mary is very concerned about the needs of the newly wedded couple. She goes in trust to her Son Jesus, and she says, “They have no wine.”  Those are the actions of a great Bon Vivant. Bon
Vivants notice when people need things and always refer the need to Jesus. They intercede for others.

And then they take Mary's advice, "Do whatever He tells you."

Mary follows her own advice right up to the cross where in suffering she remains steadfast, loving her dying Son.


  1. Susan, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post. You are such a good writer! Phoebe

  2. Oh, thank you! Just what I needed to hear! Love, Katie

  3. From one Bon Vivant to another...AWESOME! <3