Sometimes I don’t know whether my life here is a tragedy, comedy, or epic. There are days that my bank doesn’t do what I want it to do, I stub my toe, or a friend far away doesn’t respond to an email and there’s no time to call, and it seems like the movie has reached its climax.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…I’ve convinced myself that I avoided stagnancy and a flat and predictable plot line by coming here, whereas at home I would have had everything “under control.”..I seem to have decided that I don’t really belong here, yet I’ve lived in France for almost more time than the US in the past few years, and it’s here that I’ve gone through a lot of formative experiences, like my first professional job now or living away from home and school for the first time.
Ironically, I thought coming here would take me somewhere over the rainbow, and everything would magically work out and there’d be no more tears and sorrow cuz I’d be where I belonged, much as I’ve never had in mind to stay here forever.
I was right and wrong; everything DOES work out, and I’ve learned that here. The universe meets you more than halfway when you go to a meetup group or an okcupid date, and there’s a certain solidarity among outsiders and expats, whereas in the US it feels hard to be a misfit.
But when it comes down to it, my fire is just getting stronger and brighter, though sometimes anger threatens to consume me. Possibly a righteous anger, against all that is unjust and untrue in this world. I think about Joan of Arc, the patron saint of France and me, and how she was martyred by fire in Rouen, a city I just visited and all those who give of themselves for truth and love and beauty. And the fire is calmed, somehow. I know there is some absolute good in this world, even as I struggle to reconcile it with the cultural relativity I need in order to go about my daily life.
Every day is paradox, every day is magic. When you go across the world in search of a dream, even if it’s not initially all you hoped, you still retain a hero’s glow and your authenticity brings you riches wherever you go.
And while French administration has me frustrated beyond belief and Paris doesn’t always seem all it’s cracked up to be, I realize the magic is ultimately in me. As long as I live fully and honestly, and give my real self to this world, daring to be true and intimate, all is beyond well. I get to live in the golden age that made me come back to Paris, a time when I was culturally and intellectually stimulated, surrounded by bright, ambitious, kind, and open minded people like myself, when I was discovering a new world and falling in love. The Belle Epoque is still going on.
And yet, my biggest problem, I’ve finally realized, is within. In expecting myself and everything else to be perfect. In lacking compassion and liberally placing blame, in the erroneous belief that I am or should be in control of and on top of everything at all times. While many annoying things happen here, I miss home sometimes, France doesn’t always match up to my internal values, and working in France is just plain hard, but ultimately it’s my self abuse that leads me to the lows of depression and the times I just feel so hot I can’t stand it, and my body literally breaks out in rashes and complains of fatigue and tells me to go back to my cave and hibernate rather than facing the real, cruel, but beautiful and alluring world.
And then, eventually, I hit that solid rock bottom of reality and I know it’s going to be okay. The world in all its splendor and cruelty and injustice and wonder, is good, somehow. It’s something I feel even though my head always tries to convince me otherwise, and when I lose that feeling of innate goodness, I’m truly lost to the winds and the wild nightmare landscape of my own tortured mind. But when I find it, I know that two more roads will diverge in a yellow wood, and I’ll find happiness in either way, as long as I am authentic. And even if I am not, I can course-correct- though the same opportunity won’t come again. But I’ll find happiness where I am if I have eyes to see.
Even though I live in this world of shades of gray where nothing is quite right, very little is totally wrong, and things seem less and less of an allegory in black and white and more and more of a kaleidoscope of shifting colors, I have found something solid to rest my head on and it’s just a little past my heart. It’s my soul, which is not of this world, but which leads me to learn and even make mistakes here. It’s the part of me that knows this life is temporary and I am unique in the entire universe, a shooting star that will soon die and needs to shine all that it can and that’s what matters. And to be nothing but myself, no matter how easy it is to call my component parts good or bad or how utterly imperfect I feel. To find the sublime in myself and this life, floating on a black endless ocean in the light of a full moon.
Could I have thought these grand thoughts if I hadn’t seen the world and hit the depths of my darkness with face bleeding from the fall? If I had just “stayed at home and knit” like Penelope waiting for Odysseus, would wisdom have eluded me, and would I be excluded from wonder and mystery and excitement? I don’t think so, but I do know that one must make choices with a clear heart, and mind. You can’t blindly follow your fancy and every passing whim but neither can you calculate your optimal path nor reason your way to happiness. Neither feeble attempt at control will save you.
The only thing that can is opening up, accepting this mystery, the moment you say Yes to a handsome stranger who offers you a drink, the day you say I do to a being who is more intimate than you have ever known yet still other, always a little bit of a stranger.
It’s walking the path with integrity, eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, resting when tired and sometimes just running for the sheer joy of it.
Sailing into the sunset, beyond the horizon- a new happy ending means another new beginning.