Greetings from Chilly Mazarin, France! I write from a little flat in the southern suburbs of Paris, where I’m staying for the next few nights with my friend Lexie. I just finished journaling out on the porch to the sound of Lexie’s ukelele and watching the sun go down over the town. If there was ever such a thing as peaceful, it is here and now.
What an amazing journey. I write that, and it has been a grand total of two days since I left the States, but it feels like so much has already happened. Thursday night, I stayed the night in Charlotte with extended family, in order to catch the 6 a.m. Friday flight to Newark and then on to Heathrow that evening.
I wrote in my journal the night before I left, “This feels a little bit like deja-vu – a little bit like the first night in Africa that I spent at the Anglican Guest House, unable to sleep, wondering what the next eight months would hold for me. This feels a little bit like that, but different too. For one, I have a better idea of what I’m getting myself into this time than I did then, to be sure. But this time, I’m more anxious; I’m three years older than I was then, and I know the world a little bit better. I have three more years’ worth of experiences, questions, and struggles with which to make sense of the world, and it seems more mysterious and complex than it did then, perhaps more uncharted and elusive. Seventeen and twenty are two very different ages and contain between the points enormous growth. It’s amazing to look back and compare the two adventures, the two departures of two different ages, and to mark all the changes. Perhaps I’m more anxious this time precisely because I have a better handle on what I’m getting myself into. I know what it feels like to be a long way from home, to feel lost and afraid.”
Friday was a crazy day. It began at 3:30 a.m. with Betsy dropping me off at the airport, a flight to Newark, a flight to Heathrow, a bus to Oxford, and dropping my luggage into the closet and my tired body into a spare bed at the home of my UrbanPromise friend, Craig. This morning, I awoke at 6:30 a.m. and caught the train back to London.
Fifty minutes between my train arrival in London Paddington station and the departure of the Eurostar through the Chunnel to Paris, and the two subway lines I needed to take were closed. I hurried up the stairs and shelled out the extra pounds for a taxi, which got me safely to St. Pancras station in time to catch the Eurostar. The kindest Irish man named Bryan had the seat beside me, and we talked the entire 2 hour and 17 minute ride. He even bought me a latte and gave me an extra Paris metro pass so I wouldn’t have to wait in line to buy one. It’s funny, the way those things happen. Strangers are kind to you when you are in most need of kindness, and then you part and never see them again, and they never know how much you needed them in that moment. I was so frazzled and worn, and it was the most wonderful thing to be given a latte, a subway pass, advice, and company. It was a blessing.
I’ve been reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (which if you haven’t read it, should move immediately to the top of your list), and it has caused me to see more things as blessings than I did before. That Bryan sat beside me on the train: a blessing. Lexie: a blessing. Water on the trees in Paris after a downpour: a blessing.
Late Thursday night, I wrote, “Matt and Betsy gave me traveling icons as a farewell gift, a departure token. ‘They say that you do not choose icons, but they instead find you,’ Matt told me. ‘Take these with you wherever you travel. These icons have found you.’ When I opened the small booklet, the face of Jesus stared back up at me, and my reaction was the same one I have when someone I love unexpectedly walks into a room. A hint of surprise, and a most familiar warmth. Mary looks at my from the other side with the baby Jesus, and the man Jesus on the right. Maybe when I opened the icon book and looked with surprise and vulnerability, someone I love did enter the room. Someone I loved and forsook and am slowly finding my way back to.”
I emailed Lexie last week, writing (in jest), “See you at the Eiffel Tower!” And that is exactly what we did, in truth. I made my way to the magnificent, fairy-tale structure and waited underneath right in the middle. So many Parisians kissing, and so many boys with perfect, buzzed-on-the-side-coiffed-on-the-top hair. After a bit of a frantic search, Lexie and I found each other on the terrace, and sat gratefully on a bench to rest and chat before heading to a cafe for dinner. A glass of wine, ham-and-cheese baguette, chocolate crepe, and a downpour later, we were headed back to Chilly Mazarin for the night.
That’s just the bare bones, too! So much has happened! But I’m recording it all in my journal, and writing down every detail, because it’s wonderful. I love Europe, I love Paris, I love traveling, and I love adventures like this. This is a blessing. Read Gilead. It’s beautiful.
Tomorrow: a morning at Versailles (yes, that one – Marie Antoinette and all), a boat ride on the Seine, and a trip up the Eiffel at night. Monday: mass at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Bastille remains and the Rue de Saint Antoine, the Moulin Rouge, the Jardin de Luxembourg (where Marius and Cosette met), and then on to Lyon. I only wish we had more time here in Paris, but I’ll be back. Au revoir!