On This Year's Thanks

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

As many of us do this time of year, I've been spending the past few days feeling thankful.

On Saturday night, after much deliberation and many back-and-forths, I threw the housewarming party that I'd planned to host before terrorist attacks rocked our city. Though many parts of me felt conflicted about merry making in the face of tragedy, many other parts of me feel it's important to continue living, and loving, and laughing. I did my shopping on Friday and Saturday, and as the rain intensified on Saturday evening I started worrying that no one would show - Parisians, and Parisian expats, are real babies when it comes to rain.
But show up they did, with bottles and baguettes, chips and cheese, even a house plant and some serving dishes for my new space.  As these four walls filled with familiar faces, and as the wine flowed and the conversations got louder and wilder, I felt - for the first time since Friday the 13th - normal. I was surrounded by people that trudged through the rain to spend the evening together, people enjoying themselves in my new home, making memories that we'd laugh about the days after. I felt so glad, just then, that I didn't cancel. I'd spent the week quietly, spent time with myself making sense of the new world I found myself in, spent too much time in bed and shed too many tears. As our cheeks flushed and our laughter rang out, though, on Saturday night, I felt like I could breathe again, for a little while.
Things aren't back to normal, they won't ever be back to normal, but I feel that people are finding their new footing, shifting into their new lives, seeing the city in its darker light and accepting it. There are moments of small panic: last week when I had a drink with a friend on a sidewalk café terrasse, a shrill car alarm ran out and silenced the lively street instantly. We panic, we tense up, we look at each other, we laugh nervously. We sip our wine, we light our cigarettes, we ask for the menu, we relax. But still, first, we panic.
Tomorrow is the fourth Thanksgiving that I've been away from home, the fourth Thursday where I'll wake up missing the smell of turkey and the afternoon cocktails en famille, the after-dinner movie and the happy turkey-belly sleep. You get used to it, the distance, but it still feels a little bit hard at times like this. This year I'm not the only Cloughley girl far from home, though, as my little sister is studying at Trinity College (smartypants!) and so will spend her day tomorrow turkeyless too.
Reading my post from last year, I feel so different in so many ways. The post might read as upbeat, happy-go-lucky, confident, but I remember things differently. This time last year I felt so unsure, wanting to move home but wanting to stay here. Torn in a thousand directions but not even knowing which way I wanted to move. Starting out my master's degree but unsure where it would lead; wanting to arrive before I knew where I wanted to go. Now, this year, I feel more in control, and that's a really nice way to feel and I'm grateful to feel like I'm finally, and actually!, figuring things (aka "my life") out.
This year, just like last year, and the year before that, and before that, I've got so many things to be thankful for, big and small. I'm thankful for the Happy Thanksgiving card from my mother that I fished out of my mailbox when I stepped in out of the rain this evening; for the smoked gouda and sea-salted butter I'm eating on baguette as I type this; for a landlord that called me out of nowhere last week to announce he's replacing my windows so my apartment will be warmer and quieter; for a job that I'm proud to own and to have finally found (or gotten much closer to finding...) what I really want to do; for a family that, spread across three continents and seven thousand miles, manages to feel as close as ever; for friends that continue to remain close. I'm thankful for long bike rides along the Seine that numb my hands and make my nose drip; for how many things I continue to learn in school and elsewhere; for the trips I've taken this year; for the people I've loved and still love and will always love; for the things I've read that made me think long and hard.
I'm so happy that I have all these things in my life, and I'm so glad that I get to be grateful for them. More than all these things, though, more than all the wonderful people that brighten my life, all the things I've read and the places I've seen and the foods I've enjoyed and the memories I've made, on this cold and rainy Wednesday night I am just thankful to be alive. I am so, so, thankful to be alive. Nothing more, nothing less.

After class today, I rode my bike from school across the city, from the edge of the thirteenth to the Eiffel Tower in the seventh. It was rainy and cold, and true to form my nose ran and my eyes stung and my hands chapped, while inside my coat the temperature surpassed 1000 degrees (Celsius and Fahrenheit added together). Passing the Tuileries Gardens I saw the Ferris Wheel that's up for Christmas, usually white and shimmering but this year in bleu blanc rouge, like the French flag. Riding by the Assemblé Nationale, I saw its façade lit up in the same three colors, its French flags whipping in the wet wind.
I came to the Eiffel Tower, and felt, suddenly, a whole lot of emotion well up from some hidden place deep down. It was impressive, certainly; patriotic, inspirational, but some part of it felt so profoundly sad. It's lit up in blue white and red, too, another testament to the French spirit and to Parisian resilience, an image that's been projected all over the world and shared on thousands of screens - and I think it's a touching memorial. It's light and bright, it makes me think of watching fireworks on the 14th of July and of the Marseillaise and of so many things that I love about France. But, yet, there's something so terribly dark. I can't help but wish that it didn't even exist, that it didn't NEED to exist. As beautiful as it is, as patriotic or inspiring, it's still a memorial to all the people that should have been in Paris tonight, but aren't. It's a memorial to the people that would have been celebrating the end of the year with their loved ones soon, but won't be.

So, with all those people in mind, carrying them with me somewhere in my heart, this year I'm just thankful to be alive. I'm thankful that I get to have the good and the bad, the love and the anger, the pleasure and the pain of being alive. I'm thankful that I get continue to watch Paris rebuild itself, that I'll be part of the love that we'll need to go on. Even if tomorrow night I'll be at home by myself, nary a gravy boat in sight, at least I'll be here.

Squeeze your loved ones a little closer this year, my friends, and let's be very thankful that we all get to be here, together. xx

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