I am packed. I dug out my travel toiletries, picked out the books for the long plane ride, rolled up my black and gray clothing, and emptied the SD card on my camera. I called my mom. I listened to French music while I was working this week. I set my away-message on my work email addresses. I leave for France and Switzerland in three days, and I am ready.
Okay, I’m almost packed. I still have a list of things to gather – including my passport – and I still have to decide whether I’m leaving one of the books at home and taking another skirt instead. And I have to wait for my loaner phone to come from Verizon, since I’m stalwartly sticking to my basic, non-smart phone. So, I’m almost ready. I just have to finish up some work for the best Presbyterian church and look chipper bright and early tomorrow morning at a farmers market event for the best little elementary school. And I have to make headway on at least one writing project (besides this blog post).
Okay, I don’t feel ready at all.
What I do feel is a sense of tremendous gratitude.
On Monday, I’m embarking on my seventh trip to France in eleven years, which is remarkable for several reasons. I keep going to France despite some major limitations, including—but not really limited to—four years of college, four years of graduate school, an inability (unwillingness?) to have a single full time job, and a fear of flying that has, at times, been nearly debilitating. I keep going to France despite a sense of exasperation with French manners (do not ask me if I’ve been to Paris) and despite a growing, though not very serious, worry that I should be exploring widely, rather than deeply (ask me how many times I’ve been to Provence). I keep going to France despite (okay, because of) my growing awareness that my French language skills are deteriorating. I keep going to France because my first trip changed me fundamentally, and challenged me to become who I am today.
None of these seven trips would have been possible without the early encouragement of my family and the later encouragement of my extended family in France, the friends I made during my first visits there. I would have never gone in the first place if my parents hadn’t ignored their own dread at sending one of their daughters halfway around the world, and I would never have seen so much of the country if my host families (of various hosting lengths and persuasions) hadn’t taken it upon themselves to make sure I saw the little nooks of French-speaking Europe as well as the famous places. It was by accident that one of French high school teachers told me about Varian Fry, and by accident that one of our former exchange students took me to see Maison d’Izieu. It was less of an accident that I learned about La Cimade and Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and other American and French Protestant attempts to resist fascism and injustice during World War II and in the postwar years, and less of an accident that I got involved with Presbyterian Woman, the organization that has offered three times now the trip that sends me and a group of Presbyterian women to France on Monday to share the history of women in the Reformation in French-speaking Europe. Accidents or not, these interests related to French resistance, and in particular to resistance efforts of French Protestants and women of all religious and national persuasions in France during World War II, make me look forward to this trip. Whether I’m ready for it or not.
Thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can learn more about some of the people connected to the places we’re going, and more about the places themselves.
Varian Fry – the only American named A Righteous Among the Nations
Madeleine Barot – the founder of La Cimade
Le Chambon sur Lignon
Museum of the reformation
Musee du desert
Tour de Constance