20 years ago these girls got on a plane headed for France.
Fresh out of high school, ready for anything and sure that we knew what life was all about we stepped off that plane and into a world that was completely strange. We had spent one day in each other’s company, connected only through our parents, and knew nothing of each other’s personalities, foibles and fears. We stumbled through those early weeks, determined to make a success of our new life together. Hours of French study, hours of conversation with the students who lived in our dorm and hours of eating pasta and rice. Slowly, as the months progressed we learned French (at least a little) and tasted the richness of the surrounding culture, mostly in the form of bread and pastries. And then we returned home because the year was over and college was waiting. One of us was in love with the man she would eventually marry and we were all true friends, glad for our friendship and glad for the forces that had brought us together.
That was twenty years ago. Twenty years. We had always said we would reunite in Paris to mark the anniversary, but such a reunion was not in my mind or in my plans. Normal life, after all, leaves little room for such things. When Hosanna emailed months ago to begin the conversation all I could think of were reasons not to go. Leave my family and my work and my life to jaunt off to Paris? Pay for a plane ticket? Interrupt all of those daily duties that seem all-encompassing? How could I justify it?
Well, she had a greater vision than I and she was very persuasive. Alison now lived just outside Paris – she could host us – we hadn’t all been together in years – now was the time. Ok then. I would start checking ticket prices, but I was making no promises. No promises led to buying a ticket, planning when to take vacation time off of work and then, suddenly, I found myself trotting through customs at Charles De Gaulle and falling exhausted into Alison’s arms, who, being the good friend that she is, promptly bought me a proper cup of coffee.
To say it was a good week is a drastic understatement. We explored Compiegne, where Alison lives with her husband and kiddos, Senlis, where she teaches, Pierrefond with its stunning castle and St. John au Bois, whispering our way around its majestic church and cloisters.
And the piece de resistance was our days in Paris. Beautiful Paris that has long been my very favorite city and now feels deliciously familiar. We sat and gazed at Monet’s Water Lilies, wandered through Le Marais, ate a superb dinner at Bouillon Chartier and chased the perfect view of La Tour, all lit up against the night sky – a sight I will never get enough of as long as I live.
To rekindle an old friendship is like putting on a comfy sweater and finding it even lovelier than before. We read old journals from our year together and laughed and laughed and laughed. Oh my, we were young. We thought we knew it all. We thought our experience of the world had reached its height. We tried so hard to be the very best we could be. It was a delight to conclude that we like ourselves much better now – as we are today. But those 18 year old girls were very present – we carried them around with us and we gave them all the credit and all the grace. They were no less loved and no less precious because we found them silly or just a bit too sincere. They gave us what we have now – a solid, steady, faithful friendship that I believe will last another 20 years.
Sometimes you have to stop the daily to mark what has passed and what you hope is yet to come. Sometimes you have to cease your normal to recognize how far you have come. And it’s a good idea to do it in Paris, where the wine and cheese surpass your wildest dreams. So, here’s to growing up and here’s to friendship.