On the banks of the river Adour

 

We end up at a river in the middle of nowhere, near the village of Arcizac-Adour.  Some years ago we were both sitting on the banks of this very same river when we spotted a beautiful woman wearing waterproof boots up to the knees, walking on the river-bed with a sack on her shoulders. When she saw us, she came over and said:

“I know Jacqueline (a friend of ours). I asked her to introduce us and she answered: “You’ll meet them when you least expect it. My name is Isabelle Labaune.”

She explained that she was there cleaning the river of odd bits of rubbish (plastic bottles and beer cans carried down by the current), but that her true passion were horses. That afternoon we went to visit her stables.

Isabelle had a dozen or so animals, and did everything absolutely alone – she fed them, kept the place in order, cleaned the stables and fixed the tiles – indeed, all the work that would drive anyone crazy.

“I set up an association for people born with mental problems. I am absolutely certain that horse-riding makes them feel loved and integrated with society.”

Minibuses arrived bringing young people suffering from the Down Syndrome to ride the beautiful horses and stroll by the rivers and through the forests and parks. There was never an accident. The parents looked on with tears in their eyes, and Isabelle wore a smile on her lips. She was deeply proud of what she did: she woke at five in the morning, worked the whole day long, and went to bed early, exhausted.

She was a very attractive young woman. But she did not have a boyfriend:

“All the men who appear in my life want me to be a housewife. But I have a dream. I suffer when I am alone, but I would suffer a lot more if I abandoned the purpose of my life.”

One afternoon when I went to visit her, she told me she was in love. And that her boyfriend accepted her rhythm of life and was willing to help her in whatever way he could.

Some days later on I traveled to Brazil. I think that it was October when I received a message from her on the answering service of my mobile phone: she would like to see me – but I was far away and I paid no importance to the message, because nothing urgent ever happens in small towns in the interior.

When I returned to the Pyrenees in December, I went to have lunch with Jacqueline. That is when I found out that Isabelle had died of a fulminating cancer.

That night I lit a fire in my garden. I remained all alone looking at the flames and thinking about a woman who had done nothing but good in her life and whom God had taken away so early. I did not weep, but I felt a deep love in the air, as if she were present all around me. Of the many people I have known in my life, one of the closest to saintliness was Isabelle Labaune.