My heart was heavy this morning when my dear friend Isabelle left me and Rich at the Quimper train station. Rich told me not to think about it, but it was like leaving a part of myself behind. La famille Marty is family for me. We have stayed in touch for nearly ten years since I left Quimper in May of 2005. Despite the questionable security of facebook, it has served us well for sharing our lives from a distance.
When we first arrived at her house on Rue des Pivoines in the ancient city of Quimper, we stepped out of the car and were met with cheers from the garden.
Pierre help up an enormous American flag and shouted, “Welcome home!” Laughter ensued.
“Vous faites comme chez vous,” Isabelle said when we first walked into her kitchen three days ago.
“Make yourselves at home.”
And we did. We were part of the family. It was as if I left only yesterday. Or even as if I had never left at all.
And there is a part of that wishes I never had. In France, I dream in French. My panic attacks have ceased. I feel alive and eager for adventure. I imagine leaving the united states and returning to Brittany to live once more.
When last I lived in Quimper, I was in a constant limbo between worlds—my life in Washington and in France. Now, I feel different, more free. I am older. I feel less inhibited to ask questions. I sense the privilege of travel and the preciousness of time with friends who live far away.
I feel older, too.
I get more tired than I used to after a day of exploring. After a week, I am completely exhausted. I am sure that having two languages swimming around in my head adds to the fatigue.
I sense more of an urgency to imagine the life I want and then to realize those imaginings before too much more time has passed.
I know that life is long and there is time. I know I should appreciate each day instead of living in a time that has not yet come to pass.
I also know that time passes quickly, and my own life on this planet is finite.
When I taught in France, Sarah, the daughter of Pierre and Isabelle, was 8 years old. Today, she is 16. She is a woman, beautiful and graceful. She wears makeup. Her body is more womanly than my own, despite the age difference. And I am so thankful to be able to see how much she has grown up in the 8 years since I left. It is remarkable.
What a difference from my solitary life in Lowell. We spent hours at the table, drinking wine and eating food grown and cooked with care. We spoke of many things, the subjects flowing as easily as the wine from the bottle into our glasses.
Truly, I was in my element.
Standing at the train station, waiting for the train, I could see my friend Emily so many years ago, waving goodbye as I boarded the train that final morning in Quimper. I could see her only a few years ago with our friend Christiane as we sat eating patisserie in the square by the cathedral in the center of town. Neither was with me physically but their presence was strong in spirit for they are within always.
I am sure I romanticize life in a foreign country. It is easy to do when I am unfulfilled in my own life.
It is a true gift to meet people from any place who instantly become family. I have spent most of my life searching for places where I feel like I belong. It has been more with the people I have met that I have found community and a sense of place than with the places themselves. I certainly feel a strong connection to the mountains, forests, and rivers where I have lived, but it is with the human and winged inhabitants that I have found my true home.
And so, it is with a heavy heart that I write on this grey, Breton afternoon. “La vrai Bretagne,” on dit. As the train speeds ever farther from my famille Marty and the charming city of Quimper, I feel it deep within, and I work hard to hold back the tears.
Many pictures were taken, good food eaten, laughter and jokes exchanged, stories told from the years of many lives around a table.
For this, and for so much more that words cannot express, je vous remerci la France, la Bretagne, et la famille Marty.