Sunday, November 15, 2015

Grieving for Paris

What to write. With so many voices flaring up, in anguish, anger, anxiety… what to write when people are praying for Paris, condemning people for praying for Paris, warring over the media, warring over the world. What can I say that will make any difference. Although my heart and mind are full of many things, what will it matter, I wonder. 

I was catching up on work-stuff and blaring Sara Bareilles at the office when I found out. I’m glad I was the only one there. I fell into shock as I watched the BBC coverage play out, words tumbling into a traffic jam in my brain. Paris? Blood bath? Terrorists? It couldn’t be happening. Not again.

I was there in January when Paris was first attacked, mere days after New Year celebrations. I looked into the eyes of fellow commuters on the metro the day after, ghoulish with grief and fear. I felt the tremor in the breath of a city known for its ease of living. Paris had clenched her fists tight around the joie de vivre, choking it a little while trying to keep it alive. I didn’t stay inside, I walked the streets. I marched in the solidarity march of 1.5 million people. I prayed ceaselessly. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, standing beside the ones I had learned to love so deeply. Eventually, her hands eased open and music began to waft through the streets of Paris again. “We cannot hide,” they said, “we won’t be afraid.” They were inspiring the way they stood. I know a lot of Americans like to joke (or not joke) about the French being cowards, but in that moment, in the moment it mattered very much, they were the embodiment of bravery. 

When I left in September, those terrible events in January were remembered for their rallying marches and “Je suis Charlie” graffiti at the Place de Republique. We had risen above the terror. Life restored.

And then Friday night. This time not against a specific religion or media faction. Just indiscriminate carnage. Thank God no one I knew was hurt. Thank God my friends in Paris responded quickly on social media to tell me they were safe. I did not have to hold my breath for hours as some did, only 20 minutes or so. 

Messages from friends and family flooded in––so glad you are back home, you left at the right time, etc. But I didn’t want to be stateside. I don’t want safety and comfort right now. I want to be there, in the thick of it. I want to wrap the city in my arms, I want to hold her hands now battered and tighter than ever. As I fell asleep Friday night, I kept begging God to make me wake up in France. Transport me. Do a miracle, something please. I closed my eyes tight, mustering every ounce of faith I could. Please, let me go to them, my heart ached. Just let me go.

Saturday morning came, and I was still in Columbus. I numbly worked my weekend morning shift at the little French bakery in town, which had to this point been a happy reminder of days gone by. That day, it was fortress. Local support was immense. The local news came. People expressed their condolences. We all stapled little white cards with the Paris peace symbol to our aprons. 

Then I went home and sat very still for a long time. I don’t know how long. I robotically scrolled through my newsfeed as the death toll climbed. I wanted to stop, but bad news is a drug. Finally exhausted, I fell asleep at 6pm. I would wake every so often, check my phone for messages from friends still MIA in Paris, see the new death toll, and cry myself back to sleep. Sleep was an escape. I slept for 14 hours. Every time I woke up, I believed I would wake up in Paris to run downstairs and hug and kiss my beloved host family. Every time, I would wake up in Columbus and feel the aftermath of a heart breaking. 

Sunday, and I am still here. Now the blogs are flaring up. People exploiting pain for platforms. People righteously condemning things they know little about. People who suddenly become world experts. People trying to make sense of senseless violence. People hurting. I know so well the walk down Canal Saint Martin, a mere block from restaurants now peppered with blood and bullet holes. Can’t you see, it is my love who has been blown up and attacked and murdered. Perhaps there is a place for that. But here, in this little space of internet, I want to make room for grief. 

Paris is not just a beautiful city or the City of Light or Love or one of the world’s top travel destinations. Not to me. She is the home I dedicated the last year of my life learning to love, studying with unadulterated attention. She taught me to admire the waft of a well-ripened cheese and the clack of stilettos on cobblestone. She opened her secret gardens and historic treasure troves to me. She invited me to behind the curtain of the tourist trail, to know her most intimate places. She is Paris. Can’t you see, it is my love who has been blown up and attacked and murdered. She is what I had when I was alone last year: her streets, her concert halls, her restaurants, the very ones now peppered in blood and bullet holes. How do you lose your love not once but twice? First to distance, then to violence. 

I know the French. They will not cower to threats. They will retaliate (and already have). They will continue sitting in restaurants and attending concerts and cheering on Paris Saint Germaine. I saw it in their eyes in January. And I see it even now.  I want to launch into a call to action here, to tell you that we must stand with them (of course we must), that we must support our oldest ally (of course we must). But there are so many voices already telling us what we must do. So instead, I simply invite you to grieve with me. Because while everyone is waving around guns and peace signs and soapboxes, there is power in stillness and silence. There is power in simply looking the tragedy in its face, seeing it for what it is, and embracing its pain. Because I believe God works through pain, through tragedy, through loss, through violence, to bring us into a higher level of unity than before. So say a prayer for Paris, and say a prayer for me and my host family over there. And let’s move through this tragedy together.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Making My New Life

I was prepared for a hard time coming back from Paris. When I made the decision to follow my dream to move to Paris, I had subconsciously accepted the fact that life after Paris would likely (excuse my French) suck. If I was cashing in on a dream like Paris now, that basically bankrupted me in terms of dreams-come-true for––well, quite a while. I had set my reentry expectations low. Probably living in my parents' basement for a year, trying to find a job that paid enough to cover my students loans, a job I would by no means enjoy but do because I had to. such was the price I was willing to pay. But who said there was a price to pay for following your dreams anyway? As far as God is concerned, there is no maximum balance in the dream bank. 

So as the finish line crept closer in Paris, thoughts turned to what kind of life I was going to make for myself when I came home. I was starting over, clean slate. I could go anywhere, be anything. Well,  not really. All the big exciting cities were crossed out after one look at the rent rates. (Since when did an apartment cost $3K a month?!) Then I came around to the fact that trying to break into a job market in a new, big city where I had no previous contacts whilst living abroad working a job not related to my field did not exactly highlight me as a feature candidate for any job. And besides all this, I had this nagging feeling I was supposed to go back to Columbus.

Back to Columbus? It did feel like a little bit of a defeat. Going so far and then ending up right back where I started. But one thing I learned in Paris is that the city is only a jumble of buildings without the beating hearts to give it warmth and spirit. The people are really what make a place great. And I know some pretty incredible people in Columbus. So after snacking on some humble pie, I opened myself up to the possibility of moving anywhere, even Columbus. I decided I would pursue all avenues, and follow whichever one seemed to open up to me. The first step was finding a job.

There was a film company I had volunteered with a handful of times before leaving Columbus for Paris. Their talent, creativity, work philosophy––everything sang to me. I had secretly been stalking their website for years waiting for a job opening, but the timing was never right. Then, during my time in Paris, the owner of the company reached out to me because he was planning a surprise anniversary trip with his wife to the world's most romantic city and had read my blog about my travels and favorite spots in Paris. As you know, sharing my City of Lights is a passion, so I was only to eager to answer his request for tips on where to go and what to see in four days in Paris. During their trip there, they asked me to dinner and we enjoyed 6 hours of fine food, wine, and conversation. The natural turn of discussion led to future plans and what I was planning to do next in my career. To make a long story short, months later these discussions turned into a job offer that encompassed everything I described that night in Paris as my dream job. I knew when I returned to the States wherever I worked next I would have to really believe in the company, not just love the job. Somehow I ended up with the luxury of both. I was going to call Columbus home again... but where exactly in Columbus would I call home?

I had found the open house posted on Craigslist a week before coming home, and had immediately messaged Hannah (Italy travel conspirator and now roommate!) about checking it out. It was an adorable little brick townhouse with wood floors and a little backyard garden. Located right in the Short North, the most happening district in Columbus right now, it was a little real estate slice of heaven! Hannah met with the landlords the day of the open house, and gave me a little virtual tour via Facetime (modern technology, right?!). We were approved for the apartment, so long as we could make it in to sign the lease before the landlord couple left for a two week trip to Italy. Shall we call it a sign? And that meant stepping off the plane and speeding off to their neighborhood European cafe to sign the papers. My poor parents, tossed from one uncertainty to the next. Job, check! Apartment, check! One last miracle to go.

After a year of amazing public transportation in Paris, it was like pulling teeth to merge back onto automobile highway. I wanted to walk everywhere, but Google Maps gave me a big fat slap of reality: three hour commute by foot to work. We're not in Europe anymore, Toto. Next option: public transport. Despite there being a direct bus from my front door to the front door of my office,  Columbus' bus system is notoriously inconsistent, unreliable, and not exactly safe. So I was on the hunt for a new car.

A year living on an au pair salary taught me frugality as much as a year living in Paris taught me expensive taste. After zipping through Paris rues all year in a tiny Peuguot, the thought of buying anything bigger than a subcompact car was outlandish. With little money to spare for a car, the options were limited. My real dream car was a Honda Fit: tiny, entertaining handling, and amazing gas mileage. But even the used options were outside my price range. So I scoured Craigslist for the cheapest dependable options I could. I became obsessed. Perhaps because I had no other project to work on at the time. I found a Honda Civic Coup that I really liked, but the seller never called me back. I found a basic of basic Honda Civic Sedan whose handsome owner made a convincing case, but it would have meant an enormous sacrifice of taste (no offense, Angelo). Then there were the two Toyota Yaris's that looked like they had been through gang fights. My hope for a stylish affordable car had died long ago in the dreams junkyard. Then, in the last minute, just days before starting my new job, I found him... a 2007 Honda Fit waiting in a far away town barely visible on a map. In a day he was mine. His name is Francesco, meaning "French" in Italian. He's a little confused between countries, just like me.

I'm now a month into my job, and still in disbelief at how quickly life can change. I still have moments where I'm back in Paris, when I hear French in a movie or the other night when I saw a crane out of the corner of my eye and thought it was my girl Eiffel. But my world is patching up together nicely, and I am happy to say with full conviction, the dream truly never ends.

Bisous, readers!