Though I am far from a Buddhist, I am very good at enjoying the moment, and moving to Paris has only helped me refine this skill. It started even before I came, as I lived my last few months in New York. With my future unknown and looming before me, I savored every view of the Empire State Building, every rain-blurred taxi ride, and the comfort of having a job, and health insurance, and friends. Because who knew what I was getting myself into, alone and across the ocean in a place called Paris?
I told myself I’d stay until the money ran out, but I thought that would be closer to three months than the two years I’ve actually been here. I never imagined I’d make it two years… though at this moment, it suddenly doesn’t seem like enough. But for the entire time I’ve been here I’ve continuously thought that I’m about to leave, and somehow kept scrounging together the money to stay at the last minute, over and over again. Enjoy it now, I’ve told myself every day, Enjoy it while you can. Bundle up, get out of the house, take a photo, try a new cheese every week because this kind is illegal where you come from.
It’s strange to live in a constant state of panicked gratitude, as though I’m blindfolded and keep reaching out hoping to scrape up some baguette crumbs, and somehow each time they appear in my hand. It makes every one of those crumbs taste so good, especially with the salted butter known as a sunny day.
One night last year I had a dream that I was back in Arizona, living at my mother’s house, and my time in Paris was over. I woke up sobbing, my face wet with tears, awash in relief that I was still here. And every morning I wake up here, no matter how cold my apartment is, I still feel that. It’s a good trick my mind played on me to stay grateful.
Is a thing beautiful because it’s temporary?
Is it easier to love, to be happy when you know that what you have won’t last?
This is probably the way we should be living all the time, hungrily absorbing every sight and smell and taste that passes before us, happy to the point of aching. But the truth is, it hurts. It hurts to be this alive, to be this present in every moment. I often wonder whether I will ever feel a happiness that isn’t accompanied by its evil twin, the nagging sense that it is about to end?
This summer I found myself rushing out onto my balcony almost every night with a melancholic excitement to sit with a glass of rosé and watch the sun go down. I felt an urging, a kind of duty to be out and enjoying the light, even alone, because it felt so rare and special. To look at the golden beams, and the shadows of stovepipes thrown onto buildings across the street, to know that it was 8 or 9 or 10pm and the day was still here. It was still today, even if it was actually tonight. Ce soir. This evening. The even-ing of light to dark, day to night, is so beautiful it’s sad. I felt like I needed to drink it in and be there, just to witness the lateness of light, the warmth, because, like my time in Paris, like life itself, it wouldn’t be here for long, and all too soon it would be cold and dark again. December.
I know that life won’t always be this good, or easy, or pretty. Someday I’ll get sick, or someone I love will get sick, or I will come to truly know the meaning of the word poverty. Life rises and falls in waves, and this, right now, is a grand swell. But the current keeps moving beneath us.
So I have worked hard to enjoy moments here, making myself recognize it while it’s happening so that the happiness isn’t limited to some wistful moment in the future. “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone” doesn’t apply to me. I have never failed to be quiet and listen hard to my footsteps on rainy cobblestone as I walked home in Montmartre at midnight. I have never failed to kick a rock the entire length of the Jardin des Tuileries as I took the long way to the Métro. I have never failed to grab a glimpse of that big church on the hill, the Sacré Coeur, as the Line-2 train swings south above ground between Stalingrad and Jaurés, even if I have to look up from my book and crane my neck over grumbling commuters just to get one brief eyeful of her single swollen breast. I have never failed to take a deep breath while standing out on my balcony during a 2am writing break, letting the wind flow through my dress as the sound of “Crimson and Clover” floats out from my room and I think, “Paris, you’re mine.”
Except that she’s not.
She doesn’t belong to me anymore, and maybe she never did. Maybe it was just a fling that went on longer than expected. But I know I did well with it, because I have had the privilege of going broke in Paris, of stretching out my euros and my hours longer than I ever thought possible, prolonging my happiness until I had nothing left to spend.