Updated: Jul 21, 2021
In July 2016, I went on one of numerous trips to France. Previously, I had no trouble confidently expressing myself in French (and the responses were almost always in French too). This time, I had trouble.
You see, I'd been at the scene of a motorcycle accident one rainy evening prior, after I'd been out with a friend. I heard the bang and turned around, to see my friend running toward the smashed red car that stopped in the middle of the road. What he saw, and I didn't, was the cyclist come off his bike and fly over the bonnet of the car. It's the kind of image that stays with you for a long time, and my friend would be completely normal if he found himself crying for apparently no reason, months after.
Somehow, I was the one who got down on the wet road next to the cyclist, and stopped him from getting up. Someone behind me had raced out of a nearby hotel with a blanket to cover him. I think I was one of five people who rushed to help. His dark brown eyes stared from beneath his helmet, as his brain began to shut down. It was just as important to stop him from becoming unconscious, as it was to stop him from moving, but I just couldn't make him speak to me.
I thought, "Please don't die. Not here. Not on my watch."
A lady behind me suggested that I ask him to squeeze my hand. What a great idea! I squeezed his hand, so he could feel me there with him, and he began to squeeze back. I can't tell you how good that felt! I still get teary now.
I finally got him speaking, and detected an accent. I asked, "Where are you from?", to which he replied, "France". You would think that I'd be able to ask him useful questions from that point, like, "Where does it hurt?" or, "Sore arm? Leg? Hand? Foot?"
I forgot all my French words!! All except how to say my name. Not helpful. Though, I did get his first name, and where he worked. Thankfully, he survived.
Fast-forward to my next trip to France. I had been practising in my French class (and managed to articulate the whole accident to my class, completely in French). I had copied a CD from class onto my iPod, so I could get an ear for comprehension when I was there. I prepared, and yet, my brain had shut down. I could not remember my French!!
I had been putting off this particular trip, because I had an awful feeling of foreboding. I couldn't put it off any longer though, because a friend was celebrating her marriage in Germany (they had a civil ceremony first, and the reception for friends and family was a few years later). If I was going to Germany, I had to go to France as well!!
The foreboding was correct. Two days before I left home, something awful happened in Nice (Islamic State claimed "credit"); and there was an attempted coup in Turkey, announced as I waited for my flight in Melbourne Airport. There was a third horrible thing that happened later while I was in Paris, and to be honest, I can't put that one into words. It was the most cruel thing of all.
Foreboding aside, I got on my planes and had a decent trip (despite the US Vice President at the time delaying my Newcastle plane's landing into Melbourne!! Yes, I checked; Joe Biden!!).
I arrived in Paris, solo traveller as always. I usually like going away on my own; no-one to say they don't have enough money for the things I want to do, or to corner me into doing what I don't want. But ... sometimes, it might be nice!
Now, the reason I started writing about this trip, which wasn't my first, and not even my last, was because I stumbled upon my journal.
One of the great things about travelling alone, is that I get to write a journal for each trip. One of my friends had given me a beautifully-bound book, and I'd written in that (hence, she gets it when I die!).
I came across this journal yesterday, and instead of doing the work that I'd planned (because I'm really quite busy at present), I just started reading.
It occurred to me, that it's great to have travel journals, or postcards from loved ones who travel, because we can relive the adventures. I had written all sorts of details in this journal, including what I ate and drank, and how much it cost me. I talked about pre-purchasing a Paris Pass for two days, and how it made me feel like I had to do as much as possible in those two days, to get my money's worth; and yet, there were cheaper options!
But I also described the changing landscape, the sunflowers sunning themselves in the morning light, the greenness of pastures and the depth of forests. I recounted the tastes and smells of everywhere I visited.
This trip was the first time I had hired a car overseas, and I negotiated and signed the contract with people who spoke English as poorly as my French had become! I hired a Renault Twingo, and taught myself to drive a manual car, on the "wrong" side of the road (and I survived!). I was so proud!
This was a trip full of emotion: fear at the international train stations, whenever I saw the military carrying their assault rifles; elation each day I drove around the Loire and Vienne regions; forgiveness and love when I was blessed with the holy water that rained onto my head in Our Lady's Grotto in Lourdes ....
On one Sunday, when I was staying in my favourite town in France, Chinon, I went to mass. Little girls wearing green velvet capes greeted me as I descended the stairs from the doors to the rows of seats (they don't have pews). The little girls gave me a bulletin, as they smiled sweetly up into my eyes. Later, they would bring La Paix du Christ to each of us in the congregation.
During mass, I listened to the young priest give his sermon (in French, of course), and I was so moved that I wrote down my impressions as soon as I could. Here's what I wrote in my journal:
I'm not sure exactly what Pere said, but he was young, passionate, happy, and articulate. This is what I got from his sermon:
5 things for you this week:
God is with you > Take God to the world
Take God to your family
Pray for the world
Have times of silence
Listen. God will speak.
I can't put it better, really!
But, there was another little gem, further along in my journal, that I'd like to share. The friend who had given me the beautifully-bound book into which I had written, had just walked over the Pyrenees from Southern France into Spain via the Camino.
I had walked up a hill in Lourdes, to see the utterly magnificent view of mountains I liked to describe as "pointy", and I had tried to walk 20-30 thousand steps each day. My friend had walked the Camino. To say that I was in awe of her, was an understatement. I thought of her while I had my little pilgrimage in Lourdes ... and here's what I wrote, upon her inspiration:
You don't know what you're capable of until you
Give it a try
Finish what you started.
And it really isn't about the destination - stop along the way - allow yourself to stop - and appreciate all you have.
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