Tuesday, January 26, 2016

joie de vivre

This beautiful French phrase literally means "joy of living." It describes a zest and happiness for life itself. Something has changed this month for me. I know we are in the midst of winter, but the promise of spring and new life, making new friends, and continuing to check items off my list of to-dos while living here, have slowly but surely been fanning into flame a joie de vivre that has ignited inside of me.

There are songs I can’t seem to get out of my head, and every time I start singing them to myself I can’t help but smile. One in particular that seems to penetrate even the coldest days to warm my heart and soul is Never Come Back Again by Austin Plaine. This song was written for wanderlusters, such as myself, and has the ability to bring me back to reality and really appreciate just how remarkable it is that I am actually living outside of the U.S. I don’t think I’m taking it for granted, but after 4 months here, it still doesn’t feel real. I feel like when I get home and have a job and my own home again, I’m going to have to look through my thousands of photos to actually believe it happened. The fact that I could be visiting neighboring countries very soon, and that I’ve already planned out what is sure to be a spectacular day in Iceland on my way home to the States, I literally just cannot believe this is my life and this is really happening. For so long…SO LONG…I wanted to just pick up and go somewhere new. I had been to 8 countries prior to arriving in France, but it had been several years since my last trip out of the country. That yearning to travel and have new experiences is what has pulled me along through this entire adventure like an unstoppable force.

Since my last post, I’ve been able to check off a few more items on my very long list of must-do items. On Saturday, me and my friend A made our way to the southeastern corner of Paris to the Cinémathèque Française. Basically, it is a museum of the history of cinema, including a library of books on cinema and movies you could check out, and there was an exposition on Martin Scorsese and his contributions to film. All of it was truly amazing. The museum part of the building had cameras and gadgets from 100 to 200 years old, old film reels were playing everywhere, and there were even some incredible movie props that we were surprised to see there, including the head of Norman Bates’s mother from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, as well as the mechanical man from the movie Hugo on display in the Martin Scorsese expo. I still haven’t seen Psycho, which I am told I absolutely need to do. As fascinating as it was, I think my favorite part was seeing my friend in this place. It was on her list of must-do items before she came here. She worked in the cinema industry in Columbia and I didn’t realize just how much she knew about all of it until we got here. Every corner we turned, her eyes would light up and she would get so excited about everything she was seeing. I think my favorite reaction was when she saw the head from Psycho. Her hand flew over her mouth, her eyes bugged out of her head, and she just pointed and squealed. It was entertaining in the best way possible, and thanks to her, I learned a lot about cinema that day.

On Sunday, I left the house to head to church, and forgot that the RER A was not running in my town. After consulting my handy RATP app to find an alternative route, all of which took 3 times longer than normal, I realized that I would miss church entirely no matter what I did. So I decided to visit Musée de l'Orangerie which is located in Jardin des Tuileries. A smaller museum by far compared to the others I’ve been to, but this one had more of Claude Monet’s work than any of the others. The entire top floor is dedicated to his Water Lilies collection, even though many more paintings from this collection exist in other museums. But the top floor had two large, oval rooms with a long painting on each of the four walls in each room. Benches in the middle allowed you to sit and enjoy the paintings. Normally, I don’t linger too long and stare at paintings, but for these I made an exception. These were so beautiful. They all had the same theme, but were all unique. I love gardens and landscapes. Anything that shows the beauty of nature. His work is breathtaking.

Yesterday, we had the nicest day we’ve had in I don’t know how many weeks. Since November, maybe? It was 55 degrees, clear blue skies, and barely any wind. It was wonderful. There was no way I was spending the day inside, so I ventured out to a massive park that I had been meaning to check out, but it’s just been so cold. Bois de Boulogne is located just across the Seine from the 16th arrondissement. If you pull up a map, it’s the biggest green space in or near Paris. I had seen pictures online of a lake there, and I knew that’s where I wanted to go. So I picked up a ham and cheese (jambon et fromage) baguette and took my journal to see if it was as beautiful in real life as it was in pictures. It was better than I imagined. I can only picture what it will look like when the trees bloom and there are flowers there. I can’t wait to see it. As soon as I saw the water, I couldn’t stop smiling I was so happy. Happy to see a forest, to see a lake, just smiling from the inside out, and taking tons of pictures. I walked about halfway down one side and found this little path I actually walked past at first. It was a short path to a concrete platform right on the water with two benches that were hidden from view of the main path. It had a perfect vantage point to enjoy the islands in the middle and the footbridge that connected them. There were dozens of white boats docked underneath, and more geese, swans, and ducks than I could count happily enjoying the warm sunny day. It was gorgeous, and I was on cloud 9. Perfect spot to journal and take photos. Thankfully, everyone that started to walk down the path turned around when they saw this small area was occupied, so it was the perfect space for some privacy and quiet reflection. It is now my favorite spot in the entire city, and I am literally giddy thinking of how beautiful it will be in the spring.

I’ve seen beauty wherever I turn lately. I’ve seen it in history, in art, in people, in nature. But I’ve asked myself why these last few weeks have felt different. I’ve seen all of those things since the day I arrived in France exactly 4 months ago today. So what changed? For me, that answer is simple, but it’s not simple to explain. It’s my perspective that has changed. There’s no person, place, or thing in Paris that has brought me to the brink of joie de vivre.

Before I arrived, before I even knew I would leave my full time job, my house, my friends and family to come to France, I was just not happy with life. My life had reached a new level of boring. I was trying to move, desperately applying for jobs in North Carolina, and every rejection felt like a blow to my confidence. I never met anyone new, and most of my friends couldn’t just hang out on one day’s notice. There were no new places to go, nothing new to see, and I spent most of my days at home watching Netflix wondering when my life would take a turn for the better, if it would ever feel exciting, or if I would just continue on the conveyer belt of going to work every day, coming home, going to sleep, waking up, repeat. I thought the answer was a new job and new city. I wanted a new adventure. When I decided to be an au pair, and everything began to snowball into place to make it happen, I thought now…now my life will be great. Now I will be happy. It’s new, and living overseas was something I have dreamt of doing my entire life, but never thought I actually would see that dream become a reality. As the waiting began for when I would finally be on a plane, I remember thinking I just need to leave everything behind and be on this adventure. Then I’ll be happy.

I arrived in France. It had its ups and downs, just as I knew it would. In the last 4 months, I’ve been pushed and stretched to the breaking point of my comfort zone. I’ve had to overcome fear and I’ve had to put myself out there to make friends. I’ve hit points where I’ve felt so unlike myself, so out of my element, to the point where I did not recognize who I was and that scared me. Then I went home for Christmas, and I thought ok now…now I’ll be ok. I saw my family and my best friend and was able to recharge, and I returned to France refreshed and happier than I was before I left. And still, I had tough days. I don’t want to wish away my time, and some may think I’m crazy for this, but there were and still are days when I long for the day I return to America to get back in the working world, have my own place, and feel at home again. But once again, in the last few weeks, I’ve asked myself, is that what will finally make me happy? Why am I still searching? What is the problem? Why am I still not completely happy with life? Why does it feel like I am just waiting for the next thing on the horizon instead of living today?

I’ll tell you, because I knew all along what the real issue was. I wasn’t happy…I lost my joie de vivre for so long because I wasn’t trusting the source of true joy. I have so many unknowns in my life right now. Enough unknowns that could cause a planner such as myself to freak out and panic. I was confident before coming that this journey was exactly what I was supposed to do, and all the cards fell into perfect place. Not one detail was a coincidence. God has shown me over and over that He will take care of me and has proven time and time again that His ways are greater than any I could have chosen for myself. I still have unknowns, many outstanding prayers that don’t have answers, still more insecurities about a job when I get home. It was the anxiety and worry that were blocking my joy. I don’t know when or how, I just know that at some point this month, God has brought me to a point of trust and peace. That doesn’t mean I don’t still doubt or pray or cry. But it’s different kind of praying and crying. A kind that is saying I know, Lord. I know I can trust you, but I also know You still care and You still want to hear my hurts and doubts and fears. There’s a verse that actually comes to mind in moments like these that has stuck with me. Mark 9:24 says “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Story of my life. My head and heart know that God will never fail, that He is trustworthy, faithful, that He is doing great things in my life, and that He loves me immeasurably more than I can wrap my mind around. I know this. But I’m still prone to doubt, fear, anxiety, anger, uncertainty, and unbelief. I’m so thankful that He is patient and kind, and that He is present in every circumstance of my life. My best friend. My peace in the midst of the storm.

There are good days and bad days ahead, but my joy of living, my joie de vivre, isn’t in the days to come, and I’ve finally realized this. It’s not only longing for the days when favor and abundance run rampant and particularly difficult storms are just memories of lessons learned. It starts here in the unknown, staring out at the dark sky and not knowing when the dawn is coming, but knowing it will come, that the sun will rise, and I’m not standing alone. I can simply allow Christ to hold my hand, and we can stare together at the night sky, appreciating the incredible beauty that can only be seen in the darkest hour.