The sweetest sound while living as a student in France was the voice of Sister Marie Therese announce “Vous avez une poste aujourd-hui.” (You have mail today.) Sometimes I would look around quickly to check for sure she was really talking to me. Assured that she was, I would go to my box and there would be one maybe more letters. How I loved to hear from family and friends while I spent a summer in Paris, in the early 70’s, when there was mail delivery three times a day! So before e-mail and even facebook, that summer I enjoyed frequent communication for the times. I heard “You’ve got mail” in French before aol. Before morning classes, after lunch, and after afternoon activities in the city, I would check my box three times a day.
Another sweet sound that summer was the strains of Billie Holiday. Other girls in the foyer where I lived would go to the rec room above the office where I checked for mail and listen to the one American album in the collection offered to us. I had heard of her but had never really listened. Yet as I sat back and identified with the “blues” of her music I also discovered in her song “Good Morning Heartache” a way of getting over a breakup with my then boyfriend from back in the day. This American foreign to me in the US was not so strange to me at all in Paris. She sang for me and I looked forward to going up to the room to listen to this voice of the “blues” sing about heartache, my heartache ….the heartache everyone experiences at one time or another.
After discovering her album and the fact there was a hi-fi in the rec room not to mention the very limited selection available, I set out to find something else to listen to. I wanted something European and I found it in Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime.” Unlike the blues of Billie Holiday, it was upbeat,
whimsical and carefree. It was the #1 song that summer recorded in the UK and its allusions to the beach reached out to me and made me happily remember how much I loved my summers in Cocoa Beach and driving to Galveston, not far from my family’s new home in Texas. I also, discovered Georges Moustaki, a Greek vocal artist who recorded in French. I bought his album too and shared it with all who would listen. His simple lyrics and melodies were easy to carry around in my head.
“>Le meteque” spoke to my wanderlust that summer. “Il est trop tard” encouraged me to seize each moment that summer as did “Le temps de vivre”…we take the time to live. come, I’m there, I’m waiting for you, everything is possible.” And “Ma liberté” reminded me I was free to change… my confidences. And finally, “Ma solitude” with its verses “Je ne suis jamais seul(e) avec ma solitude” (I am never alone with my solitude) reinforced that being alone was a time to think, grow, develop and also, cherish. I set out to visit a museum, chapel, cathedral, rue, park, café, to meet people, to take pictures, to draw and/or to attend classes every day. I made friends and my French improved. What seemed at the outset of the summer to be dark and challenging turned into a bright summer of experiences that came to shape my point of view and provide the material for future lessons.
How could I spend a summer away from home where things were not so familiar? In my lifelong faith journey I find part of that answer in Acts 8:26-40. Philip met the Ethiopian eunuch in the wilderness. God put both of them there so that one could teach the good news and the other could learn about God. That story teaches that individuals are important. He loves us so much he is with each and every one of us always…even on a trip. God is with Philip on this “road trip” in a time when the martyr St. Stephen was just recently stoned to death. Philip had to be wary in this hostile climate yet at the same time he responded when future followers asked him for instruction.
I can’t help but know that God was with me on this trip to France, a very different kind of trip in another time. Certainly, it was not fraught with the dangers Philip was facing but then perhaps it was. I was a twenty year-old girl in a foreign city with the address of a foyer to stay and a schedule of classes at The Sorbonne. I didn’t go on a special program tailored to Americans. I was not afraid but eager to have an authentic experience. I may have felt alone but I wasn’t really alone. I did not have e-mail or facebook but I received warm letters from friends and family…with the possibility of up to three times a day! The French were on to something back then. During my travels, I found answers to my current relationships and conundrums. My desire to learn all I could was presented to me daily. God was working through all things and everyone around me. As I look back on that experience I feel immensely blessed to have never met harm’s way and indeed have been so enriched. My parents trusted that I knew what I was doing.
Today I find a community of writers and very creative folks through blogging on the internet. I have been enriched by the posts I subscribe to and I am challenged to respond to many points of view on many levels: seriously or humorously, casually or formally, briefly or more thoroughly. So far it has been rewarding and I still can’t wait to sit at my desk, read, respond and/or write. It has been a natural and logical journey to arrive here when I think about it. And when a comment arrives, I hear again the nun at Rue Pouletier announce “Vous avez des postes aujourd’hui.”
Georgette Sullins and Georgette Sullins’s Blog, July 10, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Georgette Sullins and [Georgette Sullins’s Blog] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.