I wondered what coming back to Paris would be like. I wondered if I would be smitten like I was before, when Mom and Kate and I came, three french hens wandering the great wind of St. Germain’s alleys and shamelessly devouring the glut of this visual feast.
The visual feast and more than a few macaron.
Though I suspected that this wouldn’t be Aaron’s “place”, like it was mom’s, I was still excited to share it with him. Perhaps even more so, I was excited feel close to that moment that I had with my mother and my sister. Maybe by returning, I could somehow wedge myself inside of that memory and have back for a small moment the sweetness of those days some 8 years ago.
Yet, in the 8 years since, I’ve worked hard at sorting out what it is that I value, growing into someone whose abilities and focus match her values and priorities. And I’ve worked hard at shedding the unnecessary rest. So I wondered, in light of that, how I would view the experiences of Paris and Romania and travel. Differently? Would it ignite my wanderlust again or make me yearn for home? Would I fall into Paris’ gilded arms, will Romania animate the moving parts of my soul toward purpose like it did before? Will our “new” place, Ireland, challenge and thrill me with the first glimpse of the yet-unseen or will these years of routine and sameness leave me looking for the familiar instead?
Part of me has hoped that taking this trip would solidify for Aaron and I that a season of travel was necessary to our picture. Part of me feared that this trip would be a goodbye. A goodbye to the period in my life where we are birds and the beginning of our time as trees, deeply rooted but stationary. Nonetheless, as much as I wasn’t sure I wanted the answer, I didn’t come here to build more walls of fear and denial. I came on behalf of my questions, ready to guard the unfiltered quality of honesty with everything in me as I search for answers. I came for truth.
The answer to the question of Paris is that I should not have come back. Not this time or like this.
It isn’t that I didn’t love things about it. I did and I always will. But expecting to replicate an old experience is an exercise in handmade disappointment. The time I had in Paris before was perfect, but it was perfect because she was there, with Kate and with me. It was perfect because of the perspective we shared. Perfect in the way her face fired with intensity as she absorbed, like only she could, the good that is here. Perfect because of what she taught us as we walked through these streets. Lessons which I haven’t lost, but which don’t live here without her. She was the most beautiful part of Paris.
What my mother taught me here was how to see God. She would find him both in things overlooked and where the credit was not given. She saw him in the glorious creativity and precision of every carved face and chiseled line. In the genius of man, shadows of heaven. My mother found love in the details. Most might look at the big picture of Paris. The scale of everything here is big and opulent. Yet, what struck her were the things which are easily unseen. Like the way God made the fish at the bottom of the ocean intricate and wild, although no one but him would see them for long stretches of history. Like the way God sees us, when we’re overlooked by others. Like how he names the children, the least and the unlovely his most valuable treasures. Like when God found Hagar in the desert, rejected, mistreated and alone. He found her and He loved her. She calls him “The God who sees me”. How beautiful.
Now, walking the streets with my husband, he points out the things I’d rather not know. Things which didn’t matter last time but do, today. He says if you don’t acknowledge what is real, be it good or bad, you can’t truly love or grow. I know he is right, but I fight him all the same. I warn him, threaten him, scold him and beg him not to tarnish this place.
Be honest with me about everything else, but please just leave Paris alone.
But Aaron always tells me the truth. Makes sure that I have it, like a necessary medicine, whether I like the taste or not.
I love and respect him more than I can say, for his strength and character in this. The gentle way he holds me accountable to truth has been my salvation more times than I can even count.
He points out the waste and the narcissism, the sensual extravagance in palaces with gilded edges. Things that weren’t the lesson the last time I was here, but certainly are, today.
Today, on a trip dedicated seeing to places which might possibly fit our picture of ‘home’, I can’t avoid the truth that I haven’t found it here. Ultimately, I see the balance in it, certainly. It’s not all bad. So many of the people we met were amazing, helpful and kind. We had remarkable conversation with Burt and Helen from Cambridge in the lobby of our hotel the first day we arrived. Seeing us drag through the door, they took pity on our sleep-deprived and bedraggled selves, offering to share coffee with strangers. There is so much love in bread and cup.
Maybe next time my other French Hen and I will come. For me, I think Paris is like really rich dark chocolate cake with layers of chocolate ganache frosting. It’s delicious and extravagant, but it’s not something you can just consume all the time without it having an effect on your health. And that breaks my heart a little, because I love chocolate cake and would love to at least think that I could have it for every meal. If I wanted to.
Despite the moment of heartbreak, by and large, I feel comforted by this new realization. Maybe at one point my life was heading toward Paris as home.
Maybe if I hadn’t gone back, I still wouldn’t know for sure that it isn’t what I’m looking for, anymore.
In the most honest parts of myself I know I no longer aspire to this kind of life, and because I know it, there has been a mend inside of myself where I didn’t know a rip existed. A wholeness of purpose where before I was divided. Without this experience, I would have always wondered if I was missing something. But now I know. Now I know that I’m not hungry for chocolate cake. What I am hungry for is simpler fare. Not empty calories, but true nourishment.
I am excited to go on to Romania tomorrow. To see our friends. But from Paris I have learned not to try to recreate what was. I should not have come here, at least not expecting it to feel the same. And that’s okay. I understand now.
For better or for worse, every single moment is precious, just the way it is.