Every once in a while, I feel overtaken by a stronger emotion, one that decides to leave the warm confines of my dormant subconscious and tickle the surface of my psyche. This happened recently. I felt a rush of sentimentality and tenderness mixed with a lucid flash of understanding: "this might be what it's all about".
I didn't think that my great aunt's visit would trigger such feelings, but it did, as I watched her rediscover Paris at 85 years old. She had left her cozy Breton town, Douarnenez, to meet us in the hustle and bustle of the capital for a long week-end to celebrate my sister's thirtieth birthday.
I've visited my great aunt regularly over the last few years, so I know that she still has a lot of stamina and physical endurance. Yet she herself wasn't fully confident that she could keep up the rhythm for a week-end away. She finally decided to try it and see what would happen. I'm so glad she did. Seeing her in Paris going about her days with such grace and
poise was dazzling. Spending time with her was a revitalizing break, an opportunity to see the every-day in a renewed light.
On the evening of her first day, she got caught in a big traffic jam with my mom and had to sit in the car for two hours. But it didn't make much of a dent on her enthusiasm. Listening to her talk about Paris, it seemed like dense traffic and crowds had graduated from being annoying nuisances to convenient conversation topics, just like the weather is in Brittany. These were parts of the Paris reality and there was no need to fight them - simply acknowledge them, avoid them whenever possible and carry on.
I had been used to fretting over older family members and worrying about their well-being. As much as my great aunt appreciated our thoughtfulness, she didn't need us to make huge efforts. If she felt like she couldn't walk up a hill, she said it and we found a way around the hill. But there was no complaining, which was very refreshing and encouraged us to simply enjoy the ride with her. She accepted her vulnerability, she fully acknowledged her age and her constraints but used none of those things as excuses.
What was most enchanting was that she didn't hide her joy of being there. Through her smile and some of her expressions, we knew she was having a great time. It's amazing how good that feels: seeing someone else being happy. How does that even work? We often heard her say things like "c'est vraiment formidable", or "c'est magnifique", as we dined on a river boat and admired the lit monuments from the Seine.
I feel very fortunate to have walked the streets of Montmartre with one arm hooked to hers. It gave me a chance to vividly perceive the incline of those streets, to walk at a different pace and to savor the moment in a novel way. I was genuinely excited for her grandkids when she bought two Eiffel Tower key chains and some Eiffel tower shaped candy. I was very touched when she bought two boxes of chocolates at the airport and handed me one with a big smile, saying it was for me to share with my boyfriend.
The stronger feeling I mentioned earlier took a hold of me when I saw her walk towards the security gate at the airport. She had her back at me; her trendy bag was hanging from her shoulder and she was pulling her small suitcase with one hand while holding her ticket and ID in the other. She looked small but a lot younger than her age, perhaps because she hadn't lost her confident gait. Every part of her - the way she walked, the way she looked at people around her - seemed to say that it was time to go after a good time spent.
She arrived at the security check point, smiled at the guard and showed him her card identifying her as carrying a pacemaker. For some reason, they opened her suitcase. She cooperated, they made her pass through the door next to the metal detector. Like everyone else, she was patted down by a female officer. She gathered her bags, went towards her terminal and was out of sight.
I stood there, taking in the reality of the moment, letting the emotion build up because it seemed wrong to suppress it. And then I made my way back to the heart of the city.