Tuesday, March 28, 2017

en train de


thanks to Packing My Suitcase

THE OTHER MORNING as I did my toilette I thought, lately I feel as though I’m swimming across a lake. I set out, ostensibly to get to the other side but we’ll see, mainly just to swim for a while. I’ve arrived at about the middle — too far from shore to turn back easily, yet the other side is also distant, and I’m a little tired and a tad discouraged. Work’s involved, either way. So I’m paused in the middle, treading water for a moment. I look back and can just make out everyone on shore, relaxing and chatting and picnicking gaily. I squint to look ahead, and it’s so far away and unfamiliar (although it does look quite pretty), I wonder if I’ll ever get there.

I am not in love with Toulouse at this very moment, sandwiched somewhere betwixt winter and spring. Too crowded, too many cars, too much pollution, garbage on the sidewalks and in the shrubs, and where’s the green space? We’re all pale getting paler, a little doughier round the middle (not to name names, ahem) than we’d prefer. The sky is flat, trees bare. The canal looks pitiful, still and dirty, and that bottle that was trapped in the ice dramatically now just bobs sadly and reminds us that a) many a life is spent looking for solace in one of these, and b) does anyone clean this place? I return to our apartment greeted by a mess of drinkers who’ve taken shelter from the wind and rain outside our front door. They are friendly, even courteous — I am invariably met with several “bonjour madames”, even a compliment — and harmless, but I am unsettled.

 Do you know what this is? I don't know what this is.

Where was I going again?

To top it all off I turned x5 a week ago. Le petit garçon reminded me several weeks in advance, on our bikeride to school. What? I responded. No no no, you have that wrong, you’ve miscalculated, I’m only like 42 or something or I don’t know, 37?


hip hip hurra.

But although I am tempted to despair the world, the environment, the absence of grass and leaves, still I am vaguely determined — that seems like as much as I can muster — to focus on what is, not what is not. Wasn’t that my intention when I set out? I walk out of the grimy building where I work as an English teacher, see the mess of cigarette butts deposited directly in front of our door, and take a breath. OK Una. What is happening? What’s not wrong?

OK, ok. For starters, I am alive. It could well be otherwise.

I look around. The view from the middle of the lake always astonishes me, it’s so different from my usual vantage point. I notice people bundled up, men handsome in their sweaters. They've a genetic gift for scarf-tying, the French, that’s the only way to put it. I hear the conversation around me, still a pleasant, musical background noise. I go to the marché, even just a regular supermarché, and admire the abundant butter selection. I notice goosebumps as I write, and let them rise, prickle. Feel that. Exhale.

words . . . words fail me.

I remind myself to just savor this life.

A friend who’s experienced enormous loss just adopted the most beautiful baby boy; another just gave birth. How does this goodness prevail despite it all? Maybe that’s what February and March are all about. Cuddling with babies till spring fully arrives. The holy days. Some sort of mercy in the midst of it.

Last week, for example, I’m riding to work and I hear another cyclist passing me, whistling cheerfully. And what, of all songs, is his song? Memory. From Cats. An early 80s musical, for hell’s sake! He wasn’t just any guy either, he was hip, riding his fixed-gear bike at a clip. How lovely that was, how incongruous, how bizarre. Andrew Lloyd Webber, ya made it to Toulouse. The world is connected.

And did I mention the butter section?
  
 Sigh.
I walk in a favorite park and the daffodils say it for me: We’re going to do this; we’re pushing through the cold wintry ground despite the odds. Move aside, dirt, we have a song to sing.



Otherwise
I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

—Jane Kenyon  


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