Moments before I’m about to go undergo a medical procedure, my doctor always tells me to close my eyes and think of my “happy place.” I close my eyes and picture myself lying in a patch of the greenest grass, with sunlight peeking through the clouds overhead on a warm, breezy day in Paris. I’m in a park, I think, where people are picnicking, laughing, perhaps taking an afternoon snooze. I can’t see it, but off in the distance is the Eiffel Tower. I can hear voices around me, but they are faint and soothing, for all I feel is total peace.
Even though I’ve been to Paris several times, I’ve never actually been to this park. I don’t even know if it really exists. But for some reason, when I close my eyes in search of that happy place, I can see, and most importantly, feel this imaginary destination. Paris has always been one of my favorite cities, and maybe that’s why it’s the first place my mind goes to when I think about escaping to somewhere that puts my mind at peace.
It’s been a while since I’ve been to Paris. I haven’t been able to travel internationally for quite some time due to my illness flaring (even domestic travel is currently a challenge, but I’ll get to more about that in a future post), so for now, those memories are tucked away safely in my mind. And they are great memories. My first trip to Paris (which was also my first trip to Europe) was with a group of girlfriends and it was the most liberated I’ve ever felt. I returned a couple more times, as the city seemed to beckon me. These travels took place before my illness (and restricted diet) began, so I was free to enjoy all the decadent indulgences that surrounded us: croissants, crepes, panini, gelato, the-best-coffee-you-will-ever-taste, and of course, wine! In between seeing the amazing sights, we spent hours in smoky cafes and restaurants, meeting people from all over the world, and dreaming up where life could one day take us…that is, if we allowed it to. We were still young enough for those dreams to have room to grow. Whether those dreams were naive or whether they were full of promise — or whether they were somewhere in between — could be left to one’s own perspective, but it was my first real lesson in learning that imagining the life I wanted was the first step to achieving it. It taught me how important the power of intention is, and although it would take many years, I would also eventually learn how emotion — whether positive or negative — directly affects the physical.
My photos from those trips are almost archaic now, taken from an old 35mm camera and an early version of a digital camera that might be considered antique now. We did not have international working cell phones; hence, we were free from constant contact with the rest of the world. We did not have the option of updating our status messages or sharing instant photos or “checking in” to each of our locations so that others could know exactly what we were doing at the exact time we were doing it. We were forced to live in the moment; we had no choice but just “to be.” There is no greater feeling than this freedom, leaving behind the responsibilities of everyday life, not being tied down to a job or obligation or perhaps unrealistic expectations from others that would normally dictate much of our lives. It was really a time of innocence, and as I would come to realize later, a time we would never be able to recreate.
I sometimes wonder how my life ended up in such a different place, not that I’m complaining about my current life, because I’m so grateful for it. But especially when thinking about my illness, I realize that somewhere along the way, I lost some of the ability to dream big, to live in the moment and to let go of the expectations from others that I’ve allowed to steer my life in certain directions. Those memories are precious, not just because they encapsulate a perfect moment in time, but because they are a reminder that I must be in control of my own thoughts, my physical and emotional well being, and most of all, my destiny.
That is my lesson for now, a large part of what I need to continually work on as I work towards a full recovery in my health. And if I can achieve that state of inner peace, I might just be well enough to travel internationally again one day and go back to that city that changed me profoundly. I might even find that park, that patch of green grass that I’ve dreamt up in my mind, the one that gets me through even the most trying of times. I know “it” is out there, it’s just up to me find it.
Au revoir (“until we meet again”), Paris.