Last night, moved by the anniversary of a day that I boarded a plane by myself and flew to Paris for six weeks, I wrote a tribute to the ways in which that trip continues to influence me. This morning, I feel shy about posting it. But I’m going to do it anyway…
At this time a year ago, I was somewhere over the Atlantic ocean, drifting in and out of sleep induced by a combination of melatonin and wine. I was headed to Paris, on what I’d planned as a dream trip, long in the making. It hadn’t worked out exactly as I’d planned: I had with me a single carry-on suitcase, my computer bag, a new purple jacket, and a heart broken by the mutual and painful decision to move out of my beloved’s home six days earlier.
I had no idea how I was going to make it through those weeks, yet I felt determined to see past the grief that I felt at the loss of a relationship I’d believed to be lifelong. At the same time, I vowed to myself to honor the heartache itself, to allow it to teach me what I needed to learn, and to lead me where I needed to go.
I don’t want to return to the sorrow I felt when I boarded the plane, nor to the many days I sobbed in Paris. That marked the beginning of several months in which I was the saddest I have ever been. It is still painful to remember; sometimes a song will come on that reminds me of a particularly difficult moment there, or I will think too closely of a time that I questioned if my heart would ever feel whole again, and I want to shake those feelings off of me, completely.
Yet I also don’t want to forget the vibrancy of those days. In the midst of feeling flattened by the sheer force of loss, I discovered parts of me that I hadn’t ever known. At 36 years old, I suddenly felt undefined: I didn’t have a job, in Paris or waiting for me anywhere, and so wasn’t identified by my profession; I didn’t have a home of my own, with furniture and bills to take care of, save for the rented storage unit holding my possessions; I didn’t have a partner to plan with, or to give me structure and comfort.
It didn’t always feel like freedom – not at all. But in some sense, that’s exactly what I was experiencing.
I know how lucky I am to have had the chance to spend that time there. I hope I am fortunate, and wise, enough to always remember the way that the sunlight slanted through the tall windows, angling upon my cheeks to hit my tears, just so. I hope I always remember the smells of the street on which I lived, the cacophony of freshly butchered meat, ever-pouring coffee, flowering trees, and flaking croissants crowding my senses. I hope I always remember the exhaustion of my muscles, worn out by hours of walking through the city, determined to wear myself down while exploring the streets and learning my way around. I hope I always remember lying in bed, the windows open, listening to my neighbors converse in French, filling our courtyard with the sounds of morning.
I really do think I will remember all of this, and so much more. It was the start of a period of unfolding for me, which led to this, and that, and then on to somewhere else. A year later, I write from the office I decorated with pictures of family and friends, and the thrift-store lamp that is fidgety and unreliable. I rented this house on my own, moving to a new community 3,000 miles away from the place that is ultimately my home, for all the people I love there. I made my way here slowly, and almost didn’t come at all.
For all that I did by myself, though, I know I was never alone: there was always this incredible support system behind me. And the most important thing I learned was that there was always me, standing in the center of that support system, steadily holding my own hand.
Tonight, I am alone in my office, but I am not alone in my house. My fiancé sits in the living room, on the couch I bought and assembled by myself last fall. When I moved out of our home a year and six days ago, I couldn’t imagine that we’d be here today, in a different house, together.
I never would have made it here – to myself, and to us – without boarding a plane, in tears, a year ago tonight. And over the last couple of months, as I’ve mulled over these changes, I’ve sometimes thought: It’s not that good things come to those who wait; sometimes, it’s that good things come to those who don’t wait, but instead who keep walking forward with an open heart, wrapped in feelings of honesty, confusion, bravery, pain, vulnerability, and curiosity.
I know this story isn’t done; there is much more to it, nuanced and spirited. This past year, so critical to my life, lives on, and on, and on. I remain humbled, in gratitude, for that, and for the beauty and emotion that has influenced and forever changed me, in all the days since.
I often long for Paris, for my days there and for so many arcs of joy that crossed my path. I know that in some senses, I left a bit of me behind in that city, but I gained something, too. That exchange has made me more myself than I knew I needed to be.
Tonight I think how incredibly lucky I am. Part of me, I know, will always be in Paris, and part of Paris – with her grace and strength, with her magic and silent power – will forever live here, in me.