Saturday, September 8, 2012

Reflections on Paris: And that relates to chronic conditions how?

This week we settled our son into an incredibly small room, a seven story walk up no less, as he starts his freshmen year at the American University of Paris. When your last child leaves home, be it for college or some other reason, it certainly gives one pause. However, when they are six times zones away, on a different continent and in the very amazing city of Paris, the thoughts become a bit different.

There is much to love about Paris. Sunday is a day of rest for the city, a welcome change from the US where it’s business as usual for many places. Every few feet there is a cafĂ©, where the chairs are positioned so you look out on the street, sidewalk or incredible gardens. Parks are in abundance and, if you arrive six hours before your hotel is available, which we did, check your luggage at the hotel and take a refreshing nap on the grass in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower. Lots of interesting things to see and do-they even make it affordable to see various museums, as the first Sunday of the month is free admission. The food is delicious (oh, those macaroons), and maybe what I loved the most, it’s a city designed for walking. Oh, I almost forgot the Seine. You must have flowing water and the Seine is a joy to walk along.

That noted, I found the continual reminders of conflict, war and struggle, via the variety of memorials that seemed to be on every street corner and bridge, to be quite depressing at times. Signs appeared in all sorts of places pointing to the homes or hangouts of the once famous or infamous.

My sense was that the city was memorializing what was and not celebrating and exploring what they could be. At Parent Orientation, the Dean of Students noted, as he hummed a few bars of France’s national anthem, “you wont hear a lot of that at the Olympics. We don’t produce great athletes, but we have great museums.”

On the flight home, I found myself mulling over my impressions of Paris-noting that I was in the old part and not the business district- along with this new stage of life. I decided that I didn’t want to be like this city, focusing so much on what was. Rather, what could I create in this new phase of life?

My first thought was that when my next passport is up for renewal, I want to be traveling and exploring so much that I need extra pages for the stamps from the various countries I’m visiting. Paying for such travel is an issue, but I have some ideas. For starters: anybody out there interested in having me as a guest speaker, run a workshop or program, teach a course? I’m a good public speaker, have lots of experience and am very affordable. What about an article or two?

But I digress from what I learned about life in the chronic disease lane while in Paris. There were the usual reminders, such as

• Be aware of your past, embrace your future, but most importantly, live in the present.

• Take advantage of life’s cafes-stop, take breaks and just observe

• Get out and walk. Find the parks and bright spots where you can enjoy the sunshine.

In watching how people were trying to fit in, and how much I didn’t, it made me think about the isolation that happens so frequently with people dealing with serious illness. There was no way I was going to become French proficient or turn myself into a high fashion Parisian female in a week, Actually, the latter would never be an option. I was the only person in Paris wearing Keen sandals. Now there's a fashion statement!

I couldn’t help but think of the incredible amounts of energy we expand trying to fit in. Whether it’s an illness, or circumstances, we can easily make ourselves feel alone and isolated. The bottom line is that we all have considerable value, no matter how we appear, speak, act, or what our health status might be. Our best is more than good enough. To read more on this topic, check out the following:

Your Best is More Than Good Enough

The Lonely Season by Martha Beck

The most eye-opening event of the trip happened minutes before we were home. Having been awake, due to our travel schedule, for 24 hours, I was driving while my husband periodically dozed. Shortly after we entered our town, I suddenly felt a pull on the steering wheel. I had fallen asleep and was drifting off the road. It scared me no end. In fact, when we made it home, I couldn’t sleep as I realized how easily we could have been hurt or worse.

Given that it was almost exactly five years to the day when I was trapped in our house fire, it’s not surprising that this incident put me off kilter. At some point, I had to stop worrying since the combination of jet lag and an inability to sleep is not a good scenario and terribly unhealthy.

Once again, I was reminded that there are far greater powers at play then myself. Again, I had a sense, or a reminder, that there are things I need to do. There is a purpose for me.

I can’t say exactly what I am suppose to be doing or why I was spared from the fire or from a nasty road accident. However, I have come to believe that the universe does seem to have a scheme and it’s best to try and flow with it instead of fighting it.

Saying yes to the universe doesn’t mean I want bad things to happen to me or anyone else. I learned an important lesson, which I won’t soon forget, about trying to push my body when it’s over tired and stressed. Instead I am a bit better at accepting of what happens. By understanding that there is a bigger picture and there is connectedness among us, I can deal much better with life. Consequently, I am a lot more content, which is so good for well-being.

As Ben Franklin, who enjoyed Paris, noted, Happiness consists more in the small conveniences of pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a man in the course of his life.”

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