There’s a dark morning each spring, just after we’ve shifted clocks into Daylight Savings Time, when the early part of the day is still hung with the curtains of night – cool still, with the silky promises of springtime draped across the morning’s shoulders.
Wherever I am on this morning – Philadelphia, Chicago, Wilmington – I’m enveloped in nostalgia for an early spring in 2003, the year I spent in southern France, a region without winter. That January slipped into February, my adolescence chaperoned into the past. In 2003 I got up early for lycee, to shower and leave for the bus in the predawn darkness, the pre-spring mornings loaded down with the promises of new beginnings: the world’s and my own. Promises that things did not have to turn out the way that I expected.
In France, I was in school before sun up, spent the day deliberately trying to follow, to decipher whatever happened in the classroom around me, failing, falling, my seventeen-year-old self becoming more confident as the mornings grew grey then hazy blue then sunny, as even Marseille marched into warmer months.
In those first months of 2003, I learned to accept that I had no idea what was going on, no idea what was expected of me, except that I would rise in darkness, find my way in darkness. I learned that I had to work hard to find a place for myself somewhere between Midwestern schoolgirl and cosmopolitan francophone; they were both the hardest and the most rewarding months of growing up. That spring, morning dawned and so did my consciousness. Away from home for seven months, for the first time I became who I always was: a runner, an observer, a listener, a literature student, a writer, an earnest friend searching for help, an outsider appalled at the myriad ways western society draws up categories that made no sense, a night dweller who ventured out into darkness even when it was darkness that scared me most.
Now, a dozen years later, these dark mornings remind me of my first adult instincts, the questions I asked about the strange world around me, the courage I gathered up like quilt about me. They offer them back to me, a challenge to be fearless once more.