Long ago and far away (2002 and Paris, to be specific), I had one of the most illuminating, awe-inspiring days of my life, and it all began with a simple desire: to attend church.
It was early September, and I had just flown into Charles-de-Gaulle the day before. I’d survived the harrowing trip to the youth hostel (more on that later), and I woke up early with what sounded to me like a solid plan. I dressed carefully, trying to look as French as possible, packed a bag with my scriptures, water, money, and church shoes, and set out. I was going to church.
I have to take an aside here to lay out some facts:
- I grew up in a teeny tiny town, and I truly had no concept of just how big Paris is.
- Like most 18 year-olds, I was as cocky as can be.
- In a typical display of what my mom calls “Meggieness”, I had no idea what time church started.
- Neither did I have an address. I knew the arrondissement, but that was all.
A quick study of these four facts will indicate that my little rosy-cheeked self was in for some adventure…
05:00~ Not knowing for sure what time church started, or how long it would take me to walk there (and not even thinking about taking the Metro), I left before the sun came up. I knew that the church was in the fourth arrondissement, and I was staying in the sixth, so I figured I couldn’t be that far away. I figured I would just head in the right direction until I reached the fourth, and then ask around for the address. Genius.
09:00~ I thoroughly enjoyed my walk for several hours. I was young and independent, strolling around the most beautiful city in the world. I soaked up the ambiance along the Seine, stared wide-eyed at my first ever gay pride parade (complete with drag queens on rollerblades), and reveled in my very adult Parisian adventure. And I made progress. But by nine, with the sun up and the cafes full of people-watchers, I started to worry. I wasn’t anywhere near the fourth, and if I didn’t get there quickly, I was sure I’d miss church altogether. Not one to be deterred, and certainly too independent to ask for directions, I said a quick prayer and marched on.
12:00~ By noon, my feet were beginning to hurt and my stomach was growling in a most unbecoming way, so I stopped for lunch– my very first pizza margherite. By this time I was sure I’d missed church, but I figured I would keep going and at least find where it was so I’d be prepared for the next week.
15:00~ By three, I was ready to go back to the hostel. I was blistered and exhausted, and it was starting to drizzle all over my perfect Parisian afternoon. I turned back, shrugged my shoulders, and figured I’d get better directions next week.
19:00~ When I was still wandering at seven, I decided that I was lost. I consulted each oversized Metro map I came across, and tried to use my stellar high-school French to ask for directions back to the hostel to no avail. I trudged on, muttering a constant prayer and wringing my hands along the way. I must have passed the same bookstalls on the Seine ten times, and I considered giving up and moving in with the emerging throngs of homeless panhandlers.
22:00~ Around ten, I miraculously found my way back. I couldn’t believe my luck when I recognized the Jardin de Luxembourg across the street from my youth hostel. I also couldn’t believe that I’d clocked about seventeen hours on my feet and was still standing. (Oh, to be 18 again!) I dragged myself inside, past the welcome desk, and into the tiny elevator, only to meet with my program director, who wanted to know where I’d been all day. (Where hadn’t I been?) He kept a straight face as I told my tale, but after lights-out that night I heard lots of loud laughter coming from the direction of his room…
The story continues. We haven’t reached the illuminating, awe-inspiring part yet. Stay tuned!