In 2013, I took a trip that changed my life - to the City of Light. In January of that year, my then-husband of four years told me he was gay. So much for teenage romances. After I figured out I couldn't live at the Holiday Inn Express and had to actually keep living the parts of my life that weren't a fiction (which was suddenly incredibly difficult to figure out), I picked up the phone and requested a one week layover in Paris at the end of my study abroad program that summer. So I intrepidly carried on for five months; I miraculously completed my Masters in Teaching program in those months and taught A Tale of Two Cities to high schoolers.
Every morning when I woke up and didn't know how to face the day, I thought, "I always have Paris." You see, I had been dreaming of the literature, art, and language there since I was just a girl (cliche alert). I even had 3D puzzle of the Eiffel Tower (although I never could figure out how to put that damn thing together). I studied French in high school and University (despite everyone telling me Spanish would be more useful - let's have a good laugh about that now that I live in South America). I mapped out imaginary itineraries in each arrondissement, and I never met a cheese I didn't worship. I took a French cinema class in college and studied Jacques Derrida in my literary theory courses (let's not spend too much time dwelling on what he would have to say about my gay ex-husband - that's a lot of lack). It took one traumatic divorce, months of tears, 12 therapy sessions, and generous contributions from my family, but when it came time for my friends to fly home - I turned and walked alone toward Paris with no itinerary and one backpack.
I arrived late off the train, gleefully asked for directions in French, found my hostel in Montmartre, and fell asleep smiling. I have never felt such an overwhelming gratitude. I woke up to rain but felt like the sunshine my mom always said I was. I got dressed, and I just wandered - no map. I walked for hours, stopping wherever I felt like (mostly patisseries). I'm both embarrassed and proud that I didn't go to one museum. That's the kind of gratitude I felt; I just wanted to be there. I didn't care about checking anything off a list. Prior to this week, I was always a girl with a plan. I was married at 19 (check); I had a college degree at 21 (check); I had a full-time office job at 22 (check); I went back to grad school at 23 (check). Something about that suddenly feeling meaningless really makes one reject concrete plans for a while.
What I found in my itinerary-less Paris was so much richer than any plan; I found possibilities. The days and the world suddenly felt mine to have not mine to lose. I felt empowered that I could choose where to go and what I got out of it. I found restaurants I blissfully ate alone in. I died and came back to life over a crepe filled with nutella and banana. I came home to a note from my hostel-mates letting me know of a street festival around the corner, and I went. I danced until it got dark. A French guy saw me from across a crowd, walked right up to me, and asked to buy me a drink (bless him). I was complimented at the bar, "Your French is good," and then uncomplimented when his friend replied, "Your French is sh*t; he just wants to f**k." I stumbled upon Sacre Coeur without meaning to - and no, you just can't have that feeling of delight any other way. I found a poetry reading in one of the nooks and crannies of Shakespeare and Company. I found a wall of love and believed in it again. I rented a bicycle with a bell, and I pedaled until I couldn't pedal anymore...following anyone and everyone who looked like they weren't going to get hit by a car. I sat in a random park with a baguette and a bottle of champagne and read The Alchemist from start to finish. I found two wonderful new friends to share the train ride to Versailles and a bottle of wine in front of the Eiffel tower with.
My week in Paris lit my path. I remembered what it felt like to be unafraid of what might wait around the corner. I fell in love with life again in Montmartre. The world has many of Paris' gifts to be thankful for - culture, art, liberty, equality, fraternity, and the way je voudrais sounds rolling off our tongues. I'm just one of many with a broken heart about the terrorist tragedy that took place last week in Paris. The city was not the only victim from such terrorism this decade, this year, this month, or this week, but it was the first to unite the world for peace on such a global scale amidst the wreckage. Paris is, yet again, giving me new hope for a better future.