Travelers have gone to Paris to "find themselves" for ages. Some have found romance, some women (not mutually exclusive). Some find friendship and others, future relatives. Some find their writing and some (comme moi), even better excuses for not writing (it IS Paris, for G-d's sakes). And some simply enjoy a love affair with the city, the food, the Seine. For awhile I actually treasured a love affair with the aroma of Paris' smog and exhaust on the drive in from the airport (it lasted a few years but it's over now).
When I lived there for a year (a glorious, pre-recession, carefree year), I frequently found myself walking the Champ de Mars park, taking in spring, writing on a bench and feeding the ducks (not in that order), that is until I shared my experience over lunch one day with my sister (who is a full-time mom with a full-time job in the full-time Big City of Light). I confessed that I'd nearly killed a baby ducklette by aiming the little stale, torn baguette pieces directly at him so he could grow big and strong like the others, not realizing that said others would just as soon tear Baby to shreds than share food. I was slightly traumatized after watching Baby Ducklette nearly lose its neck because I'd favored it. My sister stared at me for a moment and then said,
"Ok seriously, you have wayyyy too much time on your hands!"
I did not stop feeding the ducks (despite either experience) but I did stop sharing. I've heard this phrase before. It's not usually a compliment. The last (short-lived) friend who said this to me was wriggling out of having to respond to my heart-felt "Something's been bothering me. I'd like to talk about it." Somehow the phrase brings up remnants of my 7th grade Home Economics teacher (Home Ec, mind you!) telling me at Report Card Time, "You have so much potential and yet you choose to waste it!" (Maybe this is why I live with the one I've nicknamed "The Chef" --and BTW--why is it these 'helpful' teacher units can't just cap that 'helpful' kind of sentence at "...potential!" and leave it at that, maybe with a blank stare or better yet, a smile?)
During my most recent visit to Paris, I found myself on Pilgrimage (when finished here, see book list in margin). This time I visited major sites with an eye toward the sacred. On this visit I entered Notre Dame with intent, with purpose. I went specifically in search of angels and guidance.
I've walked Notre Dame at least every other visit to Paris for the last 20 years. I've seen the sites, the statues, the murals. I've breathed its dusty, ancient essence and even tried early on to feel its centuries-old energy locked in column and stone within my hands. Nothing happened. I tried, it laughed and held its secrets.
This time I strode purposefully through the cathedral in walking meditation, going from chapel to chapel, waiting and watching. I knew there were angels somewhere, I just had to get mindful of my breath and let them find me. I spotted a few little cherub lookalikes, figurines on glass shelves but something told me, "Not the ones you're looking for." I stopped at every chapel, took a deep breath, got centered and asked my pilgrimage question, "What do I need to know?"
I sat on a prayer bench in front of a long row of lit candles, focusing on my question. When I opened my eyes, my sight fell immediately on the flames and I heard the answer I knew was meant for me. But the meaning wasn't quite clear. I didn't understand it. I sighed and walked on, now searching for an answer to my next question: "What does my message mean?"
As I stood in front of one of the chapels, a loudspeaker announced an English-speaking tour at half-past two. In all my visits, I'd never heard the loudspeaker say anything other than"See-Lonce!" and I'd never heard of a tour in English. I hurriedly went in search of "The Chef" and confirmed a place to meet for the tour. I made one more circle in hurried meditation (Hah!) asking what my message meant and if it could possibly come sometime in the next 20 minutes.
After coming full circle again, I sat at the back of the pews and looked out over the crowds. I was feeling frustrated, a little disappointed at what my meditation had brought me, wondering why a message would come that I couldn't fully understand immediately. And then I looked up and saw what I did not ever remember seeing in all my previous visits. A pair of angels perched atop the magnificent old, carved, wooden pulpit.
They appeared darker than everything else, sentinels hiding in plain sight. They stood in a most viewable position but difficult to see, easy for the eyes to pass over.
It reminded me of Girl's Night Out with my sister and friends a few nights earlier. About 1am near Place de la Republique after leaving one wine bar and in search of another (much of this crowd was a tad younger than me), I looked up and stopped, halted in my tracks, jaw flung open. There, on the outside of a building several stories high, was the tallest, white angel relief I'd ever seen. It actually ran the length of the building. My sister looked at me and stopped to see what my eyes and the inside of my mouth were gaping at. Two of the other women stopped and stared as well. Both lived in the neighborhood, walked by here nearly everyday and exclaimed that they had never seen it before.
As I sat in Notre Dame and admired the recently-appeared black wooden angels, my face grinning ear to ear, I silently applauded having found them (and them me). I got up and circled them, snapping their pictures, admiring their capability to hide in wide-open spaces. But my pilgrimage wasn't over. "Ok you, I still need to know what my message means."
At half-past two, "The Chef" and I joined the tour which had started outside for a lecture on the front of the cathedral. As we stood in the freezing cold of January, rubbing our hands together, I was thrilled to get my first real tour of Notre Dame in 20 years but secretly a little disappointed and miffed that this might actually be taking me away from my message from G-d. I realize now that like so many modern-day church-goers, I was under the illusion in that moment that I would only find it 'inside the church'.
As I looked into the face of this short, middle-aged yet pixie-like tour guide in hat and gloves speaking halting English, it dawned on me. The booming (female) voice in the loudspeaker announcing her tour had rained down at nearly the same time I'd asked the meaning of my message and just before spotting the angels. My new message, I realized, the next clue I was looking for might very well come through her. I listened more intently and at the end of her speech, just before heading back inside for the rest of what would be a fascinating 2 hour tour, she said it.
"So the builders of the church were very specific in the things they included and every aspect of every figure and scene has a meaning and a purpose. Everything contains a message. And the message is...".
Needless to say, the message referred directly to the first one, explaining it fully. I must have looked like the kid in E.T. when the bicycle lifts off the ground and into the air. Like Elliott, who in the film is trying to make an escape, the message was exactly what I needed when I needed it.
Sorry, it's between me and the angels but I will tell you that it had to do with Light.
I highly recommend to you your own pilgrimage with your own question and the book, "The Art of Pilgrimage" by Phil Cousineau.
And I always recommend Paris because...well...Paris has so much potential. (~smile~)