Paris, Summer 2019.
Paris, Summer 2019.
“Oh, but Paris isn’t for changing planes, it’s … it’s for changing your outlook, for… for throwing open the windows and letting in… letting in la vie en rose,” Sabrina says in the 1954 Audrey Hepburn film when her love interest remarks he’s only been to Paris while changing planes. The quote stuck with me the first time I saw the movie, as a young teenager who dreamed of life with tons of perspective and little expectation. Paris wasn’t always the dream in and of itself; there were lots of places I imagined could change my outlook. But I did promise myself sometime, somewhere, I’d run off to Paris when I was young for a day or a week or however long it took to open the windows. This July, I fulfilled that promise.
I arrived in Paris on July 15, thinking I would avoid the hassle of a crowded city on their independence day. When I got off my train, on foot and completely unsure of how to get around in a large city with no direction, I was surprised to find the city almost silent on a Sunday morning at six a.m. after a celebration. My first view right out of the train station was Notre Dame, and almost no one in sight. However, unpredictable, I happened to be in the city when France was competing (and won) in the final match of the World Cup. While my plans for the first day were completely thrown out the window due to a metro too crowded to walk in and blocked off roads, I ended up sight-seeing and watching the city explode in joy. I’ve never experienced anything as I walked from one cafe to the next, seeing people genuinely so excited by every move of the match. Afterwards, there were so many flags and many loud renditions of the national anthem. Although my body was exhausted, I kept walking around and taking it in.
My second day in France took more structure, although most of my day was spent walking. I walked to the Louvre, although I didn’t attempt to make my way inside due to the crowds, and inside of the Musee l’orangerie. I ate bread, fruit and cheese for most of my meals in parks and by the Seine. I took the city by my own directions written the morning before leaving, and got lost almost every time. But I never felt quite so satisfied with my ability to see so much of a city in such a short amount of time.
People told me not to over romanticize Paris and I did not, however the city fooled me. It is a city of endless exploration and is exceedingly lovely. I could not have possibly over romanticized it even if I tried. It is just that wonderful. As I walked by the Seine, and as the city turned gold, the water becomes a vibrant mirror. The hassle of an everyday city becomes a fairytale. I finally found a place to sit and watch the water fold over itself, and people picnic, relax, and converse by its side. I randomly ended up talking to a few tourists who asked me to take their picture. “Has Paris always been your dream?” one of them asked me. It had not been, nor had I dreamed of Paris in particular but I had dreamed of that moment even if I hadn’t realized it. I had longed to be young in a city coated in gold where everything seemed to be bursting with the very core of what it means to be living. No answers were found to big questions, or bucket list items crossed off. But I felt satisfied, simply by the fact I will probably always be searching for answers in a city like Paris.
I highly recommend a good Paris trip for every young woman, not just for changing planes. Don’t go for a big spectacle, just for a few days. Just go and write and feel twenty. You need a Sabrina moment to let the windows in, and just live. You can’t over romanticize it if you try.
All of a sudden it’s October, the richest season, but I haven’t gotten used to the words around me, the words that make perfect sense. Outside my window I am greeted with red leaves, overcast skies – the first signs of a ripe season coming to a close, ready to be picked. Change is in the wind, the cold time you’re not used to (yet it thrills you in an overwhelming and beautiful way).
Only two months and a few days ago, I was still in Romania, and I felt like there wasn’t enough time to tell all the things I wanted to. I couldn’t stop seeing faces at home pass through my dreams, and wanting to share with them what all I saw and was learning. Now, what do I say, after all?
One day in Romania sticks out to me, vibrantly as if I had never left it. I was in the mountains, surrounded by the beautiful countryside. It had been a mere twist of circumstances that had led me to that place.
I was sitting alone, for the first time in a sum of time. The sun was setting, golden grass hiding me from the rest of the world. Voices echoed nearby, ones I couldn’t understand yet ones I longed to listen to forever. I pondered what had gotten me there, to that place, and I could barely find words.
“This is it,” I remember thinking, “This is the ‘wherever, whenever’ I’ve prayed so many times.'” There I was, somewhere only a sovereign God could bring me. So far, yet it felt completely right as if I had planned it my whole life.
What was there for me, in that valley, was perfect. It was promised. It was His will. I felt every vibrant confirmation of that looking out to the sky. It was very, very good.
A lot’s changed since then, and I haven’t quite grasped it all. I’ve watched life unfold in front of my eyes. I’ve rejoiced with people I love, and sorrowfully watched people abandon truth. News articles have spread tragedies to disasters, one after the other. I’ve personally fought the daily faith-testing trials of my own from car troubles to living four hours from my family for the first time. I’ve felt completely, and recklessly alone and I’ve felt the most full: looking out to the city lights and the mountain tops in abundance.
All of it: it never quite goes the way you think, or plan, assume, or dream. I’ve been learning that’s okay for a while now. Yet sometimes it’s easy to rest in the nod of a head. Answering questions with “yeah, life’s good” because you feel ashamed to say otherwise when you have nothing to complain about in the grand scheme of things. But inside, you miss too many things and even good things can feel crowded and confusing.
But God always brings you back, and reminds you what’s it all about.
Last weekend, I went back to the mountains, back to a stretch of land I’m particularly fond of and I’ve gone back to many times throughout my life. The moment I looked out the window of the car, and smelled the air, I was brought back to that hillside at golden hour two months previous.
Those glorious moments I was reminded of, tucked in the mountains of Brasov, where nothing seemed untouchable. Those are the moments when your heart cries: “This is it. This is what you prayed for those years. Don’t you see it?”
Those aren’t every day. But God is good every day. And every day he answers those “wherever, whenever” prayers. Some days, he calls us to the mountain tops. Some days, he calls us to the long and lonely drive home. He is ever present there, ever completing his will.
While in the mountains this past weekend, I sat on the bridge where God first broke my heart, and I first wept over my sin. I sat in the room where I first encountered grace and found myself singing some of the same songs I first sang that night and meant them.
Long ago, in that wooden room, I prayed for the first time that God do as he will with this life of mine: not sure what I was saying but knowing it was true. Whatever he requires, whatever he chooses to give or take away, I pray it still. Wherever, whenever: the mountains, or the in-between.
When Jonah believed he was running from God, God was not afraid to follow him through the rough waters of the ocean in order His will may be complete. He will not let his children forsake the places he wants us to go, even if they’re the ones we want to go the very least.
That’s where I’ve been and where I’ll be: somewhere, drinking a cup of coffee while trying to write something, resting in the knowledge that the grace that has led me safe thus far, through the mountains and back again, will lead me safely home. Resting in contentment, resting in grace. Resting while looking at the sky above, wondering what will be revealed to me next in that imperceivable expanse above us all.
The day before:
Everyone was talking about the roads, all day. Reports running up and down every news source on how it was expected to be the worst day of traffic history. My phone lit up in my pocket, messages of people looking for glasses as if they were necessary for survival.
The eclipse, the phenomenon my Mom had always talked about since it swept her skies in her junior year of high school. It had been a year since I had first heard it was coming myself, before the world went wild, before eclipse glasses were being sold on the streets for $30 a piece, before the interstate was blocked as early as Sunday morning. Where had the time gone?
There had been plans to travel far but those plans had turned into wonderings – was two minutes of totality worth an entire day of driving? Of course it would be, if it hadn’t been our last day.
Moving boxes, among other piles, had been filling up spare spaces for a while now. Change was inevitable, and had been for nearly nine months, ever since the wintertime, ever since New Years. Change that held promise, but was creeping up in a way that was unfamiliar.
The past year had been making familiar out of unfamiliar: getting used to certain brick buildings and crowded walkways, getting used to faces and stories they held, getting used to writing longer essays and carrying heavier books. The past year, ever since last August, when I first heard about the eclipse, and I first wrote about space; life before a year of calculating light years and studying eclipses by lights and objects in labs. Then came the summer, a whole summer abroad, driving down mountain roads, getting used to feeling the mass of darkness and the mass of a greater Glory; a summer of learning, of being changed, and coming home to nothing at all the same (inside and around). And now here we were, my parents driving five hours to their new home, and a second year starting for me.
That’s why a whole day seemed to take up more than a simple sum of 24 hours. A day just for the eclipse, just for driving, seemed a sum of certain eternities.
One year ago, last week:
Freshman year, the first week, and there I was writing about space. A book on my lap, full of thoughts about a universe and what space travel means (or if it means anything anymore). The subject of my essay: magnificent desolation, the two words Buzz Aldrin spoke of when he stepped onto the moon’s cold surface for the first time.
That’s how it all felt that summer, something mighty and something terrifying. A large mass of everything that could be twisted into poetry or be looked at as darkness. What waited, when the leaves turned from fresh and hopeful? What was lurking, there, in the coming shorter days? It felt horrifying, vast, unknown. Desolation.
The first day, my professor looked out to the group of students: Astronomy 151, a white room, kids wearing NASA t-shirts.
“There’s going to be a solar eclipse, a total one, this time next year, make plans to drive somewhere,” he said before syllabuses were passed out, before we talked about the sky.
Space was humbling, he said. The sky is humbling when you look at it, when you think about how it’s all so vast, how we’re always moving, how the stars we trace into constellations are always exploding light years away.
Plans, go ahead and make your plans, he had said. I imagined driving, somewhere. Quilts stuffed in a car, the windows open, driving somewhere to see the sky turn dark. But a year was long enough to make plans. There would be an autumn soon enough, followed by a winter, followed by a spring, followed by a hot, long summer. All of that would be days upon days, full of hours all to plan something, somewhere. I could imagine it then: the sky growing darker, our voices mumbling. So much time. Magnificence.
The day of:
9:05: Today, I woke up to light streaming through the windows and the day felt weighty.
There had been the plans but the traffic talk kept going. We made new plans in the morning, to drive up to the Church, to watch it all unfold on the top of the hill. A ten minute drive, a few hours of a day, not twenty four hours. That would be enough, we told ourselves.
Everyone was still talking about the traffic.
Everyone was talking about the end times, the signs in the sky regarding prophecies, as if solar eclipses were new, as if the world was never tinted by darkness. “This is the first time an eclipse has swept over just America, and the whole if it, so surely it means something,” I read on several occasions. If only America was the only country, I laughed to myself, if only this meant something because of it being in America.
1:04: We arrived, looking out from the safety of the grassy hill, looking to the neighborhoods below. Glasses beheld eyes to see the sun overlapped with a sliver of moon. You cannot see the moon in the light, yet there it, a piece bitten off the sun growing larger seemingly by five minute increments.
It was hot, not yet cool, so we ate watermelon, oranges, and various drinks (only ones with ‘sun’ somewhere in the title, my Dad’s doing) and hid in the shadows, while keeping eyes visible to the sun.
“I never realized how we never look at the sun,” my brother said. You don’t realize, until a day as today.
2:30: “LOOK, no not even at the sun, look behind!” The sun was setting, the sky was pink – the lights of the houses below were twinkling. Everything was lost in a shadow that passed over us all, yet there was nothing above – only the celestial, only the most ordinary. The crickets started up, for nothing indicated such a change, except for night.
And there it was: what everyone had marveled at, why people had rambled about traffic and bought thousands of dollars worth of t-shirts months in advance. All the talk that I once had been the first to share to people, after that first Astronomy lecture, and yet eventually had gotten tired of even thinking about myself.
I looked at everyone. I looked at myself, and my feet were running. We were all lost: lost in the sky, lost in something.
The darkness lasted for but a moment, and that moment seemed longer than the twenty four hours that seemed too long to waste.
You see the world dip into nothing, a ring of light remaining, and the light peaking out is illuminated by the darkness, and then the light is gone. The light is then within: you notice it is among the children’s voices, among the words that escape our mouths we forget soon after. The light suddenly is all around, again, no longer only voices, no longer nonsensical, no longer hidden by shadows and sunset.
There is much present darkness, and many incredible things: such a moment is no different, yet I do think it’s the rarity of it all. If perhaps, only once in 40 years the earth swallowed the sun in the golden rays of sunset, we’d rejoice over that too. We’d be crammed in parks, piled in groups of gathered camping chairs, we’d be looking up. We would marvel. Then we would back up our chairs, get back on the interstate, and resume.
A whole year, where things had been unfamiliar and now here we were again, another August, and it was over. Something new was beginning, for I could hear others talking through the next one – seven years from now. What would be the sum of the days, the hours, that would fill not one year – but seven? Many winters, many New Years. Surely, I would be faced with change again, a different change. Many Augusts to come and to go, and many lengths of darkness. A God, up in the heavens, who gives up darkness so we may see the light inside of us – even if just for 40 seconds.
Was it worth a day? Perhaps not. Yes, it was worth something, that minute: it was our own plan in our own place, down the road, our own sum of hours. I think back to that essay, back to the concept of magnificent desolation, of this life and the bulk of it among the changing seasons, the changing skies, the light among our darkness.
A good, good last day.