Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lost at The Very End of the World

Last December, I traveled on a fairly spur-of-the-moment trip (very unlike me) to Paris, with just my good friend Erin. Erin lives in Ohio and we had just met a few months earlier at our orientation for UCC. In that time, however, we had become best friends; we stay in touch often, and in August I was able to travel to Ohio for her wedding.

When we first arrived in Paris, speaking no French between the two of us and with only a map and an address to guide us, we excitedly set out to find our hostel. Our excitement faded to slight confusion, then frustration, and finally genuine concern: that we had no idea where we were, that we had potentially been tricked into paying for a hostel that did not actually exist, that we were tired and hungry and had been walking around Paris in circles. We had yet to ask for directions because we did not see anyone, and honestly, we were completely intimidated by the language barrier. Eventually we looked at each other and knew that we had to find someone to ask for directions. As soon as we scanned the street, we saw about a dozen people going about their business on that Saturday morning. While we had been so focused on reaching our destination, we had not noticed a single person or detail of the city, and as soon as we opened ourselves up to being vulnerable and interacting with someone, difficult though it may be, we saw the people, and the city, more clearly. After many fragmented sentences and much gesturing, we realized that we were on the right street, but that at an intersection, the street jumped about five blocks, and continued on from there. We made it to the hostel in no time from there; who knows how long we would have been wandering had we not decided to reach out to the young woman running her Saturday errands.

Later on our trip, we stood at the entrance to the elevator that would take us to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I am terrified of heights, and Erin was lightheartedly chatting with me in an effort to help me forget that I was about to board an elevator that was somehow suspended on the outside (the outside!) of a huge monument. Someone heard us talking, and recognized our American accents, and instead of giving us the usual “loud American” look, he excitedly proclaimed that he was from New Jersey and did we live anywhere near there. I live approximately twenty minutes from him in New Jersey. Justin is a flight attendant who was on a layover in Paris, looking to enjoy the sights while he was in the city. He and Erin commentated the entire trip up for me, creating backstories for the other passengers and spinning elaborate tales that kept me occupied until we stepped off the elevator and onto the deck.

In both of these instances, I had to rely on strangers to make it through anxiety-inducing situations. Not being one to admit I need help from others, I was humbled by this experience, and feel I experienced the city in an entirely different way than I would have if I was traveling with someone who knew the city well. I was forced to be vulnerable and open and attentive to every inch of my surroundings. I soaked in not only the sights and sounds of the city, but the minor details like the street signs, which were usually posted on the sides of buildings, something in which I found an immense and unexpected beauty.

What I really found beautiful in Paris, though, was the fact that I relied on these strangers to get me through. I connected with people who I knew I would most likely never see again. And that did not deter me from connecting with them, laughing with them, fumbling over an airport map and nodding wildly at even wilder gestures in place of a shared language. In “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” Lucy sees a sea-girl from the ship, and they have a similar connection. Lewis says that, “the girl looked up and stared straight into Lucy’s face. Neither could speak to the other … but Lucy will never forget her face,” that “in that one moment they had somehow become friends,” and that even though “there does not seem to be much chance of their meeting again … if they ever do they will rush together with their hands held out” (197). These details of the moment between Lucy and the sea-girl somehow perfectly explain my encounters with the strangers I met in Paris. The fleeting nature of our meetings, instead of deterring a connection, solidified one. I have heard a quote that says you can tell the true character of someone based on how he treats someone who can do nothing for him. I would revise this statement, however, to say that you can tell the true character of someone by how he treats someone who he could easily ignore, though those you can easily ignore are often those who can do nothing for you. The woman on the street and Justin could have easily avoided an interaction with me, and gone about their days. However, they both chose to engage with me while I was in difficult positions, and I am grateful for the conversations with both of them, and the lessons they taught me about getting out of my comfort zone. 

It would have been easy enough for Caspian and his crew to avoid many of the situations they found themselves in had they only been concerned with their own adventure. However, they went out of their way to unenchant the men who were in the enchanted sleep, to help Eustace during his difficult time as a dragon, to make visible again the invisible creatures, and to ensure the freedom of the slaves they encountered on one of the islands. And not only were they technically lost the entire time, as they did not know their precise location, they did not have a known final destination either. I think that traveling, and getting lost, is absolutely what you make of it. My trip to Paris reminded me to take time to interact with the people I pass by every day, be they strangers or friends, and to engage with my surroundings in such a way that even though I may become physically lost, I will always know that I am traveling a purposeful path. The passengers of the Dawn Treader were lost at the very end of the world; though I was only lost in France, I, like Caspian and his crew, am unsure of my final destination, but I am confident that my trip to Paris, and all of the other traveling I have done thus far, is bringing me nearer to it still.

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