The Last Trip to Paris

I planned my recent trip to Paris with the wistful notion that it would be a grand farewell to my favorite city. After all, I reasoned, this trip would mark my third to Paris in four years–and my fourth trip overall if I wanted to count my college visit in 1972. “You’re getting older, Ann,” I told myself, “there are many more places you want to experience while you still can.”

river view
The Seine and the Eiffel Tower

I planned accordingly–making sure to visit the places I absolutely wanted to see one more time–La Musee D’Orsay with lunch in the 5th floor cafe, a couple of hours with Monet’s Waterlillies in L’Orangerie, a last look at Notre Dame, and lunch at L’As du Fallafel in the Marais, per my son’s recommendation. And of course, a visit to La Durree on the Champs Elysees for their fabulous macarons.

I felt excited and vaguely uneasy at the same time. As I visited each place on my itinerary, I grew more and more enamored with Paris. Would this really be my last visit? Riding the Metro home each night to my B & B near the Eiffel Tower, I wanted to freeze the hands of the clock so that I could savor Paris even longer.

And as I visited L’Orangerie and saw Monet’s fabulous Waterlilies again, I was saddened by the buzz in the room and the constant selfie-taking tourists who blocked everyone’s view of the panels.

In contrast, I simply stood in front of a panel, and focused–trying to breathe in its beauty and the rich depth of the colors. I didn’t even try to take a picture-as I had the year before. I knew the colors would be a vague shadow of the beauty before me, and I heard this line from “Postscript” by Seamus Heaney: “Useless to to think you’ll…capture it more thoroughly.”

Winged Victory in the Louvre

And on my last day in Paris, where I simply savored every bite of food and every grand view, I knew I was foolish as well. Foolish to limit myself to any idea of not returning to Paris. And foolish to rush through my days, as I so often do. Instead, I want to pause and let the experience “catch my heart off guard and blow me open.” I’m working on it…and imagining another visit to Paris.

Postscript by Seamus Heaney~from The Spirit Level

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind 
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-gray lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of a flock of swans,
Their feathers ruffed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or crested or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open. 

Hope and Gratitude: Tools for Moving Forward

When I was going through a difficult time in my life, I found a card with a wonderful quote by Emily Dickinson that I used to fuel me through my darkest days:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all – “

Bird and flower

 That quote sprang to my mind as I looked around at  the many tragedies occurring around the world that shake our faith in humanity. The bombings and murders in Paris, the police brutality in our cities and schools, and the continuing tragedy of the millions of homeless people in our midst. As the old saying goes, there’s plenty of tragedy to go around. So how do we hold on to hope?

Somehow, we find the hope and the will to go on. One way that people often respond to tragedy is to create informal memorials to remember the victims and to comfort their families. In Paris, memorials sprung up all over the city and the glow of candles still shines as if to blot out the darkness of despair. Churches and social service agencies offer housing and meals to homeless people. Right here in Columbia, Maryland, Bridges for Housing Stability offers assistance for families and individuals who are in danger of losing their homes or who are already homeless.

And just this past weekend at Baltimore’s Center Stage theater, Anna Deavere Smith presented her one-woman show, Doing Time in Education, The Baltimore Chapter. Smith has traveled around the United States interviewing politicians, educators, prisoners, mayors, psychologists, and students about their experiences with education. In her one woman show, Smith offers us a panoramic view of the problems we face in our schools by sharing the voices in our community.  The performance was powerful and thought provoking.

But more than Smith’s amazing performance, Center Stage offered the theater-goers an opportunity to discuss the issues raised and to dream of what we might do as a community to change and improve our schools for all of our children. Each group of theater-goers had a facilitator who led them through a brainstorming session where we discussed what we can change and what we can’t change.  What can we change? Class sizes, arts programming, opting out of testing were just a few of the ideas. As for what we can’t change, I agree with the person who said, “Nothing!”

Smith’s one-woman-show explored the difficult and serious issues of the school-to-prison pipeline and the many faceted needs of urban students, families, and teachers. At times, the weight of the problems was profound. Yet, a theater full of people from all walks of life had come together on a sunny Sunday afternoon to pool their collective interest and ideas–and hope filled our hearts as we walked out into the city.

So where does gratitude come into this narrative? As I drove home from the theater, I listened The Science of Gratitude Radio Special narrated by Susan Sarandon.  One of the most striking facts that I heard was related to the value of shared experiences. According to the research, people are more likely to be generous and express gratitude after experiencing a shared experience than after they receive a gift. For me, hearing that confirmed the magic of the afternoon that I had just spent with my daughter and my two friends at Center Stage. We had shared an experience. The positive energy in the theater was infectious and inspiring. That alone inspires me to feel hope and gratitude as we move forward to face our challenges.

Enjoy the poem by Emily Dickinson. May it increase your hope. May you feel gratitude for the uplifting thoughts.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers” (314) by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.