After eight glorious days in France and Belgium, I’m back on American soil as of yesterday. This weekend’s RX: R&R on a women’s spirituality retreat in Oklahoma. Nice bridge back to reality.
Bonjour from Paris! I am on day three of my eight-day holiday here, staying with the indomitable Lina, a woman I’d like to be more like when I grow up. I told her in all honesty last night that she’s one of the few people I can happily spend endless amounts of time with and stay delighted by her spirit and company. She’s quite extraordinary.
The adventures abound in the city of lights so far, but I’m following my pre-trip mandate to slow it down and stay in the moment. That’s not hard to do when the culture gravitates towards two-hour leisurely dinners in a bistro, eating quiche, watching passers by, and sipping Perrier. Lina and I can talk about anything: life and love, family and friends, even politics (we’re attending a Sarkozy election rally Sunday and I’m excited to feel the energy of such an event).
Staying present is also made easier for me by the wonders in every moment. That cheese? I’ve never tasted such fromage. Those people? They’re trying to sell me a scarf, draping it around my neck and rubbing my hands over the purple and red silk. That dog? It’s taking a Parisian poop! It’s all different and special. I find myself marveling in the wall graffiti and can labels, smells from the bakeries and the sound of French being spoken and shouted all around me.
Last night, we visited the Foire de Paris, a huge street fair with halls representing different parts of the world. While I was pondering a purchase at one booth in the South American section, the man was speaking to me in French, heard Lina on the phone in Spanish, and then me speaking to her in English. Our exchange became almost comical at that point and as we laughed about it and decided on English. It was very much a “small world” moment and I was reminded how much more we all have in common than we usually allow ourselves to see. There were people of all nationalities and races at the fair and we all just meandered about, bumping elbows and looking for fun, food, and great deals on jewelry (okay, that was me, and I found them!).
Today, we rent a car and drive to Honfleurs on the Normandy coast, just Lina, me, and Nikita the wonderdog. It’s a short road trip to a charming area and we’ve stocked the rental car with junk food and Coke Light. I can’t wait for the scenery and conversation. This is a fabulous country and fantastic company.
Next Wednesday afternoon, I’ll be hopping a flight from Dallas to Paris, the first time I’ve been abroad since May 2006. It feels like a triumph, making this voyage. I’m ready for the adventure!
I worked for about two years as a travel writer, so I’ve had the opportunity to flit all around the place in North America and a few places in Europe. So it was a bit of a surprise to discover that, in fact, travel makes me anxious. I overplan and get expectations and demand too much from myself when I travel, so I end up coming back more tired than I left. And several of my trips during the past four years have included anxiety attacks and tears.
But despite that, I’ve continued to travel in limited doses, listening to that discomfort and letting it tell me what I need to do. A lot of time that is slow down.
As it turns out, hitting the brakes is one of the things that makes it possible to appreciate the very things that make travel so enjoyable. It’s all about all those delicious details that are different than home, from street signs to smells to the sounds of a different language being spoken all around me.
Through all those differences, though, there’s something that always jumps out at me: we’re more alike than we think we are. After I get past the different way a person ties her scarf or slurps his soup, the separation begins to lessen. I see the ways we are alike, the things we share as humans. The very best thing: sharing a laugh with someone from another culture. In that moment, there’s so much connection.
The other thing that happens when I slow down is that I remember to have fun. Be in the moment. Smile. Paris is an absolute delight, and I’m staying with a dear friend I’ve known since my high school days. We’ll have a long weekend to spend in the city, and to rent a car and drive to Bruges, Belgium. There’s not checklist, there’s no museum itinerary to follow, there are no rules.
So that’s the plan for Paris, insomuch as there is a plan. Relax. Stay present. And make much laughter. Throw in some croissants, and I think it sounds perfect.
Ten things your dog would tell you
1. My life is likely to last ten to fifteen years. Any separation from you will be painful. Remember that before you get me.
2. Give me time to understand what you want of me.
3. Place your trust in me—it is crucial to my wellbeing.
4. Do not be angry at me for long, and do not lock me up as punishment.
5. You have your work, your entertainment, and your friends. I only have you.
6. Talk to me sometimes. Even if I don’t understand your words, I understand your voice.
7. Be aware that however you treat me, I will never forget.
8. Remember before you hit me that I have sharp teeth that could easily hurt you, but I choose not to bite you because I love you.
9. Before you scold me for being uncooperative, obstinate, or lazy, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I might not be getting the right food, or I have been out too long, or my heart is getting too old and weak.
10. Take care of me when I get old. You too will grow old. Accompany me on difficult journeys. Never say: “I cannot bear to watch” or “Let it happen in my absence.” Everything is easier for me if you are there—even my death.
Anger is probably my least favorite emotion and I’m right in the middle of it today. I actually hesitated to blog anything because I’m feeling so very stabby, but I figure that’s actually one of the most authentic places from which to write—smack in the center of it.
I struggle with what to do with anger, with that part of me that wants to take some sort of action to change how I feel. Historically, I would just get madder and madder until I burst into tears and wallowed in feelings of victimhood, a whole afternoon or day ruined until I came up with a storyline to explain the situation. I then would settle into the story (in which I was always in the right), ruminating on it every so often, so as to confirm my rightness and the other person’s wrongness. I learned a few years ago to pray for the person toward whom I have anger, so I would throw that into the mix a few days later, arriving sometime in the next week at forgiveness. But always with that story in place to confirm, I AM RIGHT, YOU ARE WRONG.
But today, I’m not doing any of that. I’m sitting here just being angry and uncomfortable, trying to let the anger be my teacher. Every time my brain tries to make up a story about the anger, about how I was wronged, I steer it back to the present moment and remind myself that I don’t know the truth of this situation. I do not need to be a victim or even be right in this situation. And I do not need a story.
The person toward whom I feel this anger is not really even the issue today—it’s about retraining my brain to accept the emotions I feel and treat them with loving-kindness, to think about the object of my anger with that same love and pray for him, even if that sounds like, “Bless that son of a bitch.”
My other focus for dealing with anger today is doing the next right thing and trying to take good care of myself. I spent the workday tearing it up at my office (seriously, this was one of my most productive days in memory. I should get pissed off more often!). I’m spending this evening in self-care: exercising, seeing a good friend to talk, meditating, and going to bed early.
Treating my anger as a teacher is a very new practice for me, only a few months old, and I’m feeling how rough the ride is as I sit here. But I trust that the process is a solid one and that I will come through this with new lessons for living and more awareness about anger, which, though still my least favorite emotion, may become my most instructive.