“There is but one Paris and however hard living may be here, and if it became worse and harder even—the French air clears up the brain and does good—a world of good.” This quote by 19th century painter Vincent van Gogh speaks to my heart. After spending the past nine days in this historic and cosmopolitan city, I understand van Gogh’s sentiments echoed many years ago. His words are deeply honest, despite the fact that his life ended in tragedy and much of his young existence was plagued by mental illness. For van Gough, life in Paris brought a brief respite to his weary soul and perhaps, some would argue, moments of fleeting joy. Isn’t that what we all crave – joy?
For Peter and me, Paris has lifted our spirits and renewed our energy. It has been many years since we’ve been away together for any period of time. Despite my aching back, which limited my ability to put in a full day, celebrating 25 years of marriage in this city has been a great gift. We’ve rediscovered how to laugh, how to rest and how to just be alone together. A few of our favorite memories include strolling through the neighborhoods, popping into ancient churches, visiting great museums, eating delicious food and meeting friendly people.
With regard to the churches, it was a joy to experience the presence of God in buildings dating back to the twelfth century. Upon entering any church in the city, we visited quite a few, we saw pilgrims gathered in prayer around the Blessed Sacrament. Others lit candles in front of Saint statues, kneeling in quiet prayer. We watched elderly French women praying their rosary with purposeful intent. These holy women reminded me of my mother Joan – a heroic woman of faith whose trust in God and devotion to the Blessed Mother served as the center of her life. Peter and I prayed for the souls of my mom Joan and his dad Bob – we miss them both deeply. It felt right to leave a little piece of our prayerful hearts in Paris – the part which longs for both Joan and Bob.
We had the privilege of visiting the Chapel of our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. When we arrived, the Chapel was overflowing with visitors from around the world who had been drawn to the light of Mary. We bought Miraculous Medals and entered the Chapel to pray. It was an amazing experience to contemplate the Blessed Mother of God appearing in this very Chapel! We prayed deeply for all those who have asked for our prayers and for all whom we have promised to pray. We prayed in a special way for our families, friends and those suffering from a life threatening illness.
According to the Chapel’s website “The sky descended on the earth … From July to December 1830 Sister Catherine, young “novice” of the Daughters of Charity, receives the immense favor to talk three times with the Virgin Mary.” God chose this chapel on Rue de Bac for the Virgin Mary to appear in person to Catherine. “The Virgin revealed her identity through a small object, a medal, intended for all without distinction!” The medal has become known as the Miraculous Medal and is known throughout the world for its healing graces. Go to http://www.chapellenotredamedelamedaillemiraculeuse.com to learn more.
We have met the most wonderful people throughout the city. For those who think the Parisians are snobbish, think again. They are welcoming, friendly and downright lovely people. We enjoyed talking with them in the cafes and in the boutiques. There was a lovely French woman at a Marais boutique who helped me select a gift for my daughter Grace. When she found out that Grace was 22 years old and working in the NYC area, she redirected my selection toward something young and Parisian! (Grace will be happy…) The gentlemen serving in the cafes are polite and very smart. All speak English quite well and smiled at our feeble attempts to speak French. We met a new friend named David, who teaches at NYU in Paris. He is a professor of French Literature and treated us to a tour of his building which has sweeping views of Paris. We enjoyed a nice cafe lunch with him discussing many interesting topics.
Visiting the tourist sites was my least favorite part of Paris. While I was glad to see the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph, I did not enjoy the crowds or long lines. Our guidebook suggested a two-hour visit to the top of the Eiffel Tower but by the time Peter and I arrived on the second level, took a few photos and walked around, we were done. We counted about twenty minutes, laughed a bit and descended down toward the nearest cafe for a glass of rose.
Like van Gogh, we all seek joy in our lives. Visiting a great city like Paris can be a way to experience it. We can also find joy by seeking God in all things. For those experiencing pain of any type (I’ve had constant back pain for 5 years from 2 major surgeries and an ongoing injury) life can be a burden, but the faithful people of Paris have reminded me that God is always close. I found Him in new ways in the ancient churches of this city. Sometimes we don’t get to do all the things we want in life (there were many day trips I simply could not do on this trip and most days I had to take a mid-day rest on my heating pad) but God meets us exactly where we are and shows us the way. Understanding this reality is the path to finding real and lasting joy.
We leave Paris tomorrow and offer our deepest gratitude to a city whose people have offered us boundless generosity and hospitality. We enjoyed our visit immensely and hope to return someday. (I hope it is before our 50th wedding anniversary!) Thanks to all who have kept up with our travels by reading my blog. It’s been fun to recapture our days, by sharing them with you!
Merci, Au revoir!