Serendipity 'The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident'. August 2010

It's been yet another particularly tough weekend here in France. To tell you the truth, to sum it up as a weekend of suffering would be a bit like saying a death put a damper in my day. It's more than that, it's a lot of things that have been a long time coming and at one point or another, it's calling out STOP! It's looking in the mirror and wondering where that smile went and why I haven't seen it in such a long time now.

A couple weeks ago, I was walking through the Buttes Chaumont with a friend of mine. I haven't been hit head on the head with a coincidence in a long while. Maybe because I've been blinded by love. Maybe because I haven't been straight long enough to believe in anything. Maybe there just haven't been any to notice. I can't tell you for sure. They say a watched pot never boils and that you can't always get what you want. They say things only happen when you least expect them to. Lately, I've been weary of cliches and by that, I've been using all my energy not to become one, even if I know full well, they might as well plug my photo in next to the word on Wikipedia. Wait, maybe I can do that?!

There is a serenity at the bottom of the feelings. I met a man here in France who told me that the greatest thing about hitting rock bottom was how exciting it was to rebuild again. Another friend called me yesterday morning, at just the perfect moment and I needed to talk to her very much. It's hard when the people you consider your closest friends are so far. Apart from troubling facebook updates, they know very little about your day-to-day despair, especially if you're not feeling motivated enough to keep them in the loop which, for the past I don't know how long, I haven't been. Still, there are some friends that can sense it. I am lucky to have a great number of those people in my life. There are lots and lots of people here I absolutely adore but there are some people who you've already shared these profound moments with, who just get it, get you, without having to explain anything - because there are no words to explain what you're going through - and it's true what they say, sometimes something is lost in translation. To these people, you can say the most horrible things and they'll laugh along side you, knowing that it's only funny because it's coming out of you; the irony of it being the joke. And even though I forget over and over again, these people come back into your life and sweep you off your feet again and again and remind you that love comes in all forms, that there's a lot more to the word than romance. Romance, not love, is overrated.

Anyway, like I was saying, I was walking with a friend in Buttes Chaumont. It had been a pretty heavy week of emotions on my end. Touched by the death of a family member, a series of misfortunate events, long walks down memory lane and me all the while questionning everything all over again; every facet of who I am because I hated the person I was seeing in another's eyes, I was losing sight of everything I came here for and realizing I hadn't grown an inch in all my three years abroad. I was precisely in the very same place I began. It wasn't like me to be so down. I drank a lot that week. More than I have in a long time. A bottle of wine to myself here. Too many shared bottles of Gris there. Tequilla when I couldn't see. I don't have a problem with alcohol and I barely drink - but when I do, I think it's more the hangover I'm looking for. I can see a lot deeper into my soul through my reflection in the porcelain mirror than I can in the light of day. Call me Blanche Dubois if you will, might be the 30-year old crisis I'm about to hit head-on. But it's true that sometimes you really do just need to let loose. Feel like yourself. Even if you can't possibly be that person every day - because she's obnoxious and irresponsible and her big mouth might lash out exactly what she thinks to just about anybody, once in a while, it does a world of good. This week in particular had a particularly strong effect on me.

With this friend, we walked through the park, looking at the people, barely talking. A little Dylan, a little sunshine, no shoes. After a while, I asked him if he'd accompany me to suicide bridge. I think he hesitated having witnessed my deepening depression first hand but I wanted to go because it's a part of this book I'm writing and I'd never even seen the God damned place with my own eyes. He's a writer too, he got it. So off we went, me, happy to have him there to force me to get me to a park in the first place, to somewhere new, out of the day-to-day routing. In Paris, I find there is so much to see that most days you see nothing, overwhelmed with the beauty of every step, it's easier to close your eyes, or close the shutters and stay in your expensive little apartment and watch re-runs of whatever English programming you can get your hands on. Not today. Shoes on. Dylan off. Sun set.

There was a big white sign that just said "OASIS" leading into the bridge. Totally random. Whatever, I thought to myself. Weird but whatever. Strange choice for graffitti. And then my ears perked up. There was a guy in front of us playing "Wonderwall". If it would have stopped there, I still would have found it to be an interesting coincidence. In no way meaningful. I don't think there's anything too deep to take from Wonderwall or Oasis but the combination of the two things at that very moment, I was sure was trying to tell me something.

We continued to walk. So did the musician. This French man walked two paces in front of us, guitar in hand, singing the entire song in English, beginning to end. I was so uncomfortable. Mostly because I didn't want anyone to think that we were part of his band. But it was the three of us, taking on the bridge, a music video from start to finish and for the first time in a really long time, and only for the span of a pop song, life felt magical again. Oasis. Who knew? I had a smile stretched from ear to ear and I felt happy. It wasn't the song. It wasn't even the oddity of it, I just knew.

There have been a few more of these types of instances in the past few days. Things coming into my life at just the right moment, or perhaps it's just me opening up enough to hear it or see it. A movie. A book. A phone call.

And then all of the sudden this evening, sitting over my I-don't-know-how-many-times-I-can-eat-the-same-fucking-arrabiatta-pasta, I realized that for a while there, I had totally lost faith. Faith in a happy ending but not even just that. That never particularly mattered to me. Just faith in the fact that life is beautiful and that mine is a story worth telling. I don't know how I lost it, if I was robbed or if I gave myself away of my own volition but I want it back, I want to own it again, I want to keep it with me everywhere I go.

I don't know if I've shared this story with many people but it was a very important moment of my youth (yes, I'm turning 30 this week and this happened only 4 years ago but let me use the expression because it feels like one of those times when it should be allowed) that I haven't thought about in a long while. I was on a train between Venice and Rome. It had been a couple of days since I had really spoken to anyone about anything meaningful. I was day-dreaming of ex-lovers and broken promises and as cliche as it sounds, trying to find myself on a railway in Europe. I was seated across from an old woman who introduced herself as Pia, assuming "Hello, I'm Pia" was all the English an old woman from a small Italian town would know. I watched her say goodbye to her husband on the platform and it made me smile but only a little. They kissed and hugged and waved to each other until they were out of one another's sight completely. To my surprise, she went on immediately about how much she loved him. How they had never spent this many days apart - ever - but that she knew she had to go. Her sister's husband was going to die. She needed her. There was no other choice. These were the kinds of exceptions in life that made time apart acceptable and mandatory.

Having somewhat bitterly left an ex of mine in Paris after a disastrous combination of bad timing and bad behaviour, I didn't need this woman rubbing her happy ending in my face. She told me about her faith. About how beautiful life was if we were open to it and by the end of the ride, I was fully convinced that she had found the secret and that I wasn't on this train with just some old lady but with a Deity I had something to learn from. She was getting out at Bologna, I was continuing on to Florence.

If you're imagining me with a backpack, with a Canadian flag sewn to it, with a moleskine journal out on a plastic fold-out table and a ballpoint pen in hand, eyes all but glazed over with the tuscan countryside, you're there with me. I even wore a fucking money belt. Inside, I kept my wallet, my ticket, my passport. Pia dozed off a while and I opened my money belt to re-confirm my reservation for my next train, just to keep myself occupied and distracted from yet another draft or another bad love letter, I was penning watching the terracotta and gold and green landscapes pass my window. While fiddling, this coin-looking thing fell out. I had forgotten all about it. It was a stupid quarter-like piece of silver with a picture of an angel embossed on the front that my mother had insisted I take with me as a good luck charm on the trip. I thought she was absurd. Not only was I not religious but it was so cheesy I could hardly keep a straight face. She explained to me that she was only giving it to me because it belonged to my grandmother, who had it with her when she died. My mother knew very well that I had in part dove into this trip because of the great effect my grandmother had had on my life. So, after a little prodding, I agreed. I threw it in among the rest of the euros and the pence and had completely forgotten it was in my bag.

Pia woke up and told me the Coles Notes version of her life story: she was an English teacher once, married late, retired, had children and even grandchildren now. She felt incredibly blessed and incredibly loved despite having a very modest life. She barely ever left her small Italian town and her days were simple: gardening, meals, naps, visits. I told her I was looking for love again but that I was becoming cynical, that I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, how much it hurt to lose my grandmother and that my divorce had really shaken me to my core, made me act out in ways I didn't think possible. There wasn't much more to tell than that. After a while, I excused myself to visit the ladies room and when I got back, Pia was sound asleep again.

We were nearing Bologna. Pia's stop. I would be happy to take over the four seats myself but a bit sad to lose my sweet traveling companion. At least she had spoken to me. I hadn't heard much English in days and even if I was feeling a bit too cynical to really appreciate all she had to say in the moment, she had a good energy about her, she reminded me of my grandmother, who's last words to me were about how every night, before she went to sleep, she looked back at her life and said with a smile, "I've really done it all", that she didn't mind getting older one bit because she had finally arrived at a place where she could appreciate the life she'd had. These women had the wisdom I longed for. Seeing Pia with that old man on the platform, so in love, gave me the bit of hope I needed in that moment. While she was still asleep, I snapped a photo of her, then jostled her awake to tell her we were almost there. She thanked me and wished me well on my travels. Told me I was brave and that I had great things ahead of me. I thanked her and wished her luck with her sister and hoped that her husband wouldn't suffer too much in his passing. All the while, still fiddling with the stupid angel coin in my fingertips.

She got her overnight bag from the overhead compartment and turned to me before heading to the exit while the train slowed to a complete stop.

"You know, Julie, all she really needs, all any of really need now, is strength."

I smiled at her and waved goodbye, watching her slowly sauntering down the steps onto the platform. Getting comfortable and about to settle in for my own nap, I flipped the coin over in my hand, glanced quickly down at it and noticed something I had never seen before. There, etched on this good-luck charm of my grandmother's was the word: 'STRENGTH'. How had I never seen it before?

I got up from my chair, with only my money belt strapped around my waist and everything else I owned here in Europe still in the overhead compartment as the train was whistling last call and hopped off myself. Fortunately for me, she was a slow, old lady. I chased her down, screaming.

"Pia, wait!"

I placed the coin in her hand and said only: "This is for you. It belonged to my grandmother". She looked at it and we were both brought to tears without having to explain a thing. Serendipity. I quickly ran back to the steps, boarded and waved goodbye from my chair, feeling filled with possibility, with life, with an indescribable energy and power that only happens in those rare moments where the world aligns so you can witness its magic.

It didn't last long before the inconveniences and banalities of the 'quotidien' interrupted my high: train delays, missed connections, having my ass grabbed by some drunk stranger, but for a while there, I felt full of it, bursting with it. I saw how beautiful it all was and I was, as they say, in the moment.

Life is hard. It's ridiculously hard. People come and go, say one thing and do another. Some people will do anything to tear you to bits - use you, abuse you, judge you - and you'll let them because you partly want to concede, give up, be one with the madness, because it's easier to throw up your hands and throw in the towel. Once in a while, though, on nights like tonight, with my whole life crumbling around me and too many decisions swimming around in my foggy little brain, the answer seems so easy, so clear: faith. That's what I keep leaving behind over and over again and it's the one thing I've got to bring with me everywhere I go. When I've got it, I'm alive and when I've lost it, I'm already dead.

I was lost but now I'm found. I was blind but now I see.

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