Even though the calendar scheduled spring for two weeks ago, Paris remains trapped in winter. I sit before a window on the second floor of Shakespeare & Co., its aged glass warping my view of the Notre Dame’s naked stones against a slate sky. Still, persistent tourists crowd around the looming saints and gargoyles, cameras posed in an attempt to capture forever what has already existed longer than themselves—and what will continue to stand for years after they’re gone.
I’ve never lived in a city before, much less a city so soaked in antiquity. The present blends effortlessly with the past as people walk the same ground that Hentry VI of England strode for his 1431 coronation, where a pack of rampant wolves were slayed in 1450 after taking the lives of forty Parisians, and more than three hundred years later, the Festival of Reason, when philosophers attempted to rip Christianity from the cathedral and instill within it their own liberated beliefs.
Thousands of other stories never made it to the history books. I watch from my seat as several hundred more lives create their own small anecdotes, each person a microcosm that I see briefly, nothing more than an out-of-focus speck in a photograph, a blurred face that will appear in a dream and later be forgotten, the world continually in transit.
Before I arrived in Paris two months ago, I spent most of my time romanticizing the past or plotting the future, which did little more than exhaust satisfaction from my present. Slowly I’m learning how to stay grounded. Paris certainly helps—it has the unique ability to coerce one to live in the moment, because it appeals to every sense (no wonder it is a Mecca for artists).
Sometimes I think I must be crazy – I quit a good-paying job, broke up with my boyfriend and left everyone I know behind in order to become an au pair in a foreign country. But when I really reflect upon everything, I always come to the same conclusion: risks are necessary. Discovering and learning to appreciate oneself is worth any inconvenience. Even when something tries to scare you, don’t let it. Be fearless. It’s time to quiet our minds, grow away from the past and start creating a history worth retelling in our years to come.