Last month I met a Parisian woman in her 90s. We have become rather friendly. She speaks to me only in French, and I struggle to make sense of half of what she says. I must admit, I get extremely frustrated, wishing that I would have mastered the language by now. Yet, I am solely at fault. I must try harder. Practice and study more.
A few weeks back we spent some rather precious moments walking the streets of Paris. Not, strolling. Way into her 90s, she has not slowed down. Her steps are brisk and determined. Along the way, we stopped as she pointed out landmarks, explaining its history in detail, and in French. I caught a phrase here or there. Silently berated myself. We continued on. We made plans to meet again later that week so that she could take me to one of her favorite churches. Unfortunately that plan fell through.
Yesterday I bumped into her on the street (of course, not literally). We were genuinely happy to see one another, as we exchanged a warm and heartfelt hug – not the mere two-cheek kiss, but a hug that meant everything. Those who have known me for years, know I don’t really go in for hugs. Personal space. But with this woman. This keeper of history. I longed to hold onto. She proceeded to explain to me, in French, why she had to cancel our last get-together. She also explained, in French, that my American phone number made it difficult for her to reach out to me.
She invited me up to her flat, which she is in the process of selling. She cried the day it was listed. There is a lifetime worth of memories crammed in between the bookshelves, seeping through the centuries-old floorboards. She’s a sculptor. Her beautiful work is scattered throughout the flat. A large artistic rendering of her hangs above the entrance to her library. It’s done by a famous artist, who she invites me to come with her to visit. She also wants to take me to meet her art teacher.
She tells me about the history of the building and its beautiful courtyard. Important and weighty stuff. But a lot of it is lost on my stubborn ear. I scream on the inside. More berating. She sees me to the door of the building. We make plans to text about getting together later this week. I smile as I walk up the street, past my favorite church in Paris, while looking forward to sharing and learning about my new friend’s favorite. I am happy. I am at peace. I am grateful for the old and new.