When I first visited Paris, something happened to me. In a place distant from my all-American upbringing, I discovered some treasured aspects of myself that were latent for over 40 years.
It’s certainly no surprise that I fell in love with the City of Light. It’s not an unusual phenomenon. Paris is the go-to heartthrob of giddy romantics of all ages and cultures. Most visitors with any sense of desire to see and experience beauty and culture and cuisine and style can’t fail to find themselves having found in Paris one of their most memorable lovers. Paris in the rain outshines a sunny day just about anywhere else. Or maybe it’s just me: the poet; the dreamer. But, I don’t think so. Appreciators from all walks of life have been celebrating Paris in its rainy, new-washed splendor for centuries.
Artists and writers and poets have recognized and rhapsodized over the city’s nuanced sensuousness— rain or shine, day or night, winter, spring, summer or fall. “I love Paris every moment…,” the Sinatra song goes.
It’s not hard to fall in love with Paris. Anyone can do it. But what I found interesting, unexpected, and in the end heartbreaking, was that Paris also felt like home.
No, my ancestry is not predominately French. I do have some ancestors that trace back to France, but I wouldn’t say the nationality is enough of who I am to stir that kind of cultural or blood connection.
No, I don’t speak the language well. Good grades in high school and college French classes, and a perusal of a French phrase-book to jog my memory on the long trip overseas, didn’t eliminate even one of the many “deer-in-the-headlights” moments I had when attempting to speak with sales clerks, restaurant servers, and (especially painfully), a metro ticket attendant whose failure to even attempt a polite sneer, left me shaken and confused and, oddly, ashamed.
No, I was not able to traverse the lovely streets with some inner knowing of where I was. Each rue et boulevard was captivating and at the same time perplexingly similar. I was constantly (and yet blissfully) lost.
No, I did not figure out how to tie a scarf so that the effort looked effortless. Nor could I keep a remote yet admirable coolness as I walked the beautiful streets as the Parisians did. My big friendly face wanted to make eye-contact with each native of the city. I was rather like a puppy who wants its owner to know she looks up to him, wants to be liked by her master, and believes he can do no wrong in her dopey dog eyes. I never walked the streets with careless abandon, but instead with a look that said “please see my earnestness and throw me a bone of approval. I have just attempted to don a cloche on my poorly coifed head. Do you like it? Do you approve? Can I fit in…just un peu?”
No, it didn’t feel like a sense of being at home in any of those ways at all. It was a spiritual thing. Not that that was ever the plan. But I found home, resonant comfort within, in these ways:
It was the how the design of the buildings made me aware of some rich elegance I too possessed. These beautiful old structures uplifted my own shaky sense of worth and made me recognize by their exteriors along the streets, some loveliness mirrored within me. The City of Light inside myself wasn’t so simple and pedestrian as I had believed, but really quite regal and special. Paris told me so.
It was how (very good!) poetry just flew out of me and sprawled its verses effortlessly across pages, unbidden and uncontained, as if the words had waited beneath the ocean for years and had finally come up for air.
It was the manner and quick pace with which the citoyennes of the city walked the world—confident and quick and free—that I found kept perfect tempo with my own heartbeat. It stimulated and revealed to me more clearly my inner yearning for energetic motion, attended by subtle grace, progressive intention, and a steady and natural trust in my own uniqueness—the right to be a character with a prominent place in any story and especially in my own eyes.
It was the way my normal appreciation for artwork became a deep well of misty-eyed sentimentality at the impressionist works of the masters. I was close enough to touch these textured, colorful pieces, and most of the paintings themselves were misty enough to prey easily upon some place within me that unceasingly yearns to be moved by the enigmatic; to feel within the heart what one sees with the eyes, and to let it remain there—inarticulate, but always alive to be regularly and deeply felt, savored, cherished.
I went to Paris simply because it seemed like a great idea at the time. I left less than two weeks later with a powerful spiritual impact that has never left me. Paris is a tender aspect of my Soul reached and realized. I am finding that it is just one of the many cathedrals within me whose thrilling grandeur, truly taken in, would begin to answer a life-long prayer to know what I am, who I am, why I am.
Paris was the perfect place to start this deeper journey, at a time when deeper journeys were needed. That trip opened the way to more geographic journeys. I feel that each has had some divine intention behind it, leading me to discover, with each new experience away from my home, another true and vast and yet somehow familiar home within me. The exploration of Paris and other earthly places is continuing to open up windows—stained-glass if you will indulge the metaphor that best describes what I feel—to these great and holy cathedrals within me.
The outward touches the inward, forces it to be seen and claimed. Our amazing earth reveals an even more amazing heaven at hand. My physical travels in recent years have been leading me to wonderful spiritual destinations that linger with me: Peace. Self-awareness. Joy. Adventure. Love. Artistry. Praise. Childlike eagerness.
I’m ready to head out again, with senses alive and soul open wide. Stay tuned!