Learning How to Live

Last week, I happened to write the following personal story just hours before news broke of the Paris attacks.  Out of respect for all the recent victims in both Paris and Beirut, and everyone affected by these tragedies, I've debated whether to share this story.  A dear, wise friend (thank you, Brandy) suggested that perhaps it could help balance the heartbreak so many of us are experiencing.  I offer this story, along with prayers of love and peace, as a tribute to the power of the human experience around the world and to the City of Light, which holds a special place in my heart.  Let there continue to be light.  Let all of us, individually and collectively, be the light.

Learning How to Live (Paris, circa 2002)

I was in a strange, unfamiliar place.  I wandered aimlessly, with nowhere to go.  The weather was cold, gray and drizzly.

To my surprise, I realized I couldn’t be happier.

Paris isn’t for changing planes. It’s for changing your outlook … for throwing open the windows and letting in La Vien Rose.
— Sabrina (1954 Film)

Just a few weeks prior, I had returned to work after a 2-week family vacation.  It was the first time I had taken more than a one-week away from my 60+ hours a week corporate job.  As soon as I saw the piles of work that had accumulated on my desk, I began to regret it.

Then, something unexpected and inconvenient happened.

My friends had been preparing for a trip to Paris.  Their departure was only a couple weeks away, when someone from the group dropped out.  They invited me to fill the spot.

It was a dream come true, which quickly spun into a nightmare (in my head).

What?!  I finally have the chance to go to Paris … someplace I’ve always dreamed of going … and this is the worst possible timing!!  I just got back from a two-week vacation.  There’s no way I’ll get another two weeks of vacation approved.  There’s too much work to do.    I’ll never catch up on my workload.  And I can’t just spontaneously hop on a plane to a foreign country.  This kind of trip needs to be planned in advance, after lots and lots of research!

Soon after my panic attack, I had a meeting with one of my two bosses.  He could tell something was on my mind.  I told him about the impossible situation.  His shocking response was, “Anyone who gets a chance to go to Paris should go to Paris.”  Then he ordered me to meet with my other boss.

I repeated my dilemma to Boss #2, to which she immediately responded by leaping out of her chair, pushing aside all my file folders of unmet deadlines, waving her hands in the air, and shouting, “Go!  Go!  Go!” as if I was about to miss the plane.

And so, I went.  I went to Paris.

I learned how to live in Paris.

I savored every bite of chocolate noir ice cream and pastries and roast chicken with potatoes basted in the drippings.

I stood in awe of art and architecture, and the artisans who devoted their lives to creativity.

I was inspired by nature’s perfect artistry in sunrises, sunsets and the effects of changing light throughout the day.

I started taking photographs as souvenirs.

I followed my heart and my curiosity.

I enjoyed long walks, taking detours, getting lost, and all of the unplanned discoveries along the way.

I surrendered to the slower European pace, taking afternoon breaks and ending each day on a high note by sharing meals together.

I deeply connected with old and new friends during leisurely 4-hour dinners, and relaxed to the bistro music playing in the background.

I discovered beautiful similarities, along with beautiful differences, among people of different cultures.

I laughed more.

I stopped wearing my watch and pager.

I embraced spontaneity.

I learned that staying in the present moment is the secret to slowing down time.

I began running towards what I really wanted, instead of away from something I didn’t.

I expanded my imagination to dream about a different kind of future.  A future of new possibilities.

I have learned how to live ... to be in the world … not just to stand aside and watch. And I will never, never again run away from life, or from love either.
— Sabrina (1954 Film)

To this day, these are some of the things that continue to fill my heart with joy.

I’m forever grateful to God and to those friends, bosses and co-workers who gave me the opportunity for this life-changing trip.  And I’m forever grateful to Paris, and to the people of Paris, who helped me learn how to really live.

Now it's your turn.  What experience has taught you how to live, and what's one thing you learned from it?  Please share in the comments below. Remember, whatever you feel inclined to share is exactly what someone else out there needs to hear.

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