MANY of us will soon be on vacation. After a year of hard work, we will spend a few days or weeks relaxing at home or at the beach, by the lakeside, in a mountain range, or even in some pilgrimage site such as Assisi, Padua, Lourdes, Jerusalem…

Whatever our choice, the important thing is to slow down, find new energy, and appreciate the gift of time.

I do not know if the story I am about to tell you has much to do with one’s holidays, but it certainly does show that even time itself can be given as a gift, and that it is indeed possible to change current laws in favour of those in need.

It all started from a very sad episode. In 2009 workers in the Badoit water bottling plant in Saint-Golmier learned that Mathys, the 11-year-old son of Christophe Germain, an employee of the firm, had relapsed in his fight against cancer. On hearing this, one of the workers approached Christophe and asked him, “Is there anything we can do to help? Do you need any money?” With tears in his eyes, Christophe replied that the only thing he really wanted was to spend more time with his son. Christophe had, in fact, already used up all his paid leave to be with his son in his battle against cancer, and certainly couldn’t afford to leave his job.

In a gesture of great solidarity, all the Badoit employees donated some of their days off to Christophe so that he could be with his son and encourage him in his fight against the disease. It is heart-warming to learn that Christophe’s colleagues were able to donate a total of 170 days of paid leave to him.

Unfortunately cancer took Mathys away on 31 December 2009, well before Christophe was able to use up all those 170 days.

However, no act of love is ever in vain, even when it seems to miss its purpose.  Love has times and means that have nothing to do with our everyday thinking. Love is the seat of creativity.

And so, Christophe Germain, in memory of his son Mathys, went on to establish D’un papillon à un’étoile (From a Butterfly to a Star), an association that has never ceased to fight for the rights of those experiencing situations like his own.

This association has been so effective that, on April 30 this year, the French parliament passed a law which allows workers to donate their paid leave to colleagues with seriously ill children. The bill, presented by MP Paul Solen, was passed by the National Assembly in 2012, and was finally approved by the French Senate a few months ago. Workers will now be able to anonymously donate their days off to colleagues who need to look after their seriously ill children.

French Senator Catherine Denoche commented, “The text of the law addresses a real expectation of the people; it addresses the need of solidarity and reciprocal help, and allows families to reconcile their work lives with tragic moments in their lives.”

The law is named after Mathys.

Does not this story have something extraordinary about it? A small gesture born of the only force that binds communities together, that of the desire for mutual help and solidarity, was able to touch the hearts of those who dwell in high places, and who are all too often deaf to the needs of the poor and the humble in society.

Those 170 days were not able to save Mathys’ life, but they did open a new and unexpected opportunity to hundreds of other parents who, in great difficulty, are accompanying their children in their battle with a serious illness, their struggle with the terrible effects of an accident or their dealing with a permanent handicap.

In this case, a misfortune that had befallen a young child was able to break through the portals of insensibility and cold bureaucracy because, as an old saying goes, “Sometimes the strongest among us are the ones who smile though silent pain, cry behind closed doors, and fight battles nobody knows about.”

Updated on October 06 2016