Paris, Day 8: La Vie est Belle
“La vie est belle.” Life is beautiful. She urged me to remember that.
A dear friend had handed me an envelope when I saw her a week before my trip. “Open in Paris” was printed across the front.
She had written me a touching message about savouring the totality of life — because it is indeed beautiful, all of it, even the parts that hurt — that I would read the moment I had settled in at my flat and was preparing to take my first steps out onto the streets of Paris. She ended it by quoting me back to myself: “Head up. Heart open.” It’s something I say before every race I run, and she wanted me to remember it on this trip — to be there, fully immersed in every second.
Her note would have brought tears to my eyes regardless, but like so much of this trip, it seemed fated. I have not simply been a tourist in Paris for a week. I have lived in Paris for a week — plunged myself into the experience as deeply as I could — and everything I’ve seen and done has been so tightly woven with who I am right here and now that it’s felt as if this city has been my very own for the time I’ve been here. I opened to it, and it opened to me.
And so it might seem strange to lead off this final daily dispatch from the City of Lights with an image of a cemetery, but it is actually quite fitting.
I spent my final morning in Paris winding my way through the famous Cimetière Père Lachaise. It is a lush and verdant space, alive with the sound of the wind and bird calls. It had rained overnight but the sun was just beginning to shine again, and the light filtering through the still-wet foliage was absolute prismatic magic.
One might think that thoughts of Death would dominate when surrounded by what is very much like a small city of headstones and monuments and memorials. But the prevailing feeling I had while at Lachaise was one of vivacious life. The famous rest here — Molière, Parmentier, Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, to name a few — but so does Everyperson. And collectively, their gifts to this existence we share on planet Earth was palpable in the air. The gestures of love and care left on gravesites (my favourite? A row of potatoes placed atop Parmentier’s headstone…) are a reminder of legacy and a celebration of life:
What we do matters. What we give matters. How we love matters. All of it touches someone, and is remembered.
That sense of joyous life was the right way for me to end this trip. My journal, which I wrote in prolifically while here, is brimming with experiences and memories of pure joy I had in this city that has so much beauty to offer. Paris treated me well. I treated myself well while here. I filled every second of every day, either with sights or contented stillness and silence, and I am going home restored in a way I can’t remember being from any time off in recent memory.
That’s not to say there weren’t difficult and emotional moments in Paris. Some of them are recorded here as part of my daily writings. But as part of an overarching experience of self-renewal, they were beautiful moments, too.
Did I find Paris’s heartbeat and slip inside of it for a week’s time? I did. Did I fall in love myself again, as I so fervently hoped I would while cradled in the heart of Paris’s beauty? That’s hard to say, but what I do know is this: I slept well (albeit on a weird schedule thanks to jet lag…), I ate well, I drank well. I sought out soul-edifying experiences, and I allowed myself to be led by what felt right in each moment. I allowed myself to feel deeply. Here in Paris, I have been more generous and loving to myself than I’ve been in a long time. Here in Paris, life, in its totality, has been beautiful.
It’s a good start.