I’ve been working on this blog post about Lyon for quite some time now. For a while I had an extremely long description of my 7 hours in that breathtakingly beautiful city. However, now that exams are almost over and I’m looking at my last 3 weeks in France my perspective on my very brief day in Lyon has been slightly changed.
This semester has been extremely challenging for me. It was difficult to come here by myself and be faced with an enormous amount of free time. The majority of my semester has been spent with myself. Even when around friends who speak English fluently there always seemed to be a barrier of sorts, as if we were all divided somehow. This meant that I had quite a bit of time to think. For the first few months I thought about home and the people there and my relationships with them, but after awhile, I refocused and started trying to live completely here instead of having one foot in each country so to speak. I met some new people and grew closer with a couple others. Train rides to and from the city, and long runs around the lake in the park here provided me with ample time for reflection.
It was somewhere around that time that I found myself in Lyon, staring up an enormous hill at basilica that I could have sworn was a castle in a Disney movie. Later that day, after some beautiful sights and one exhausting climb, I sat on the top of that hill, looking at the roman amphitheater ruins stretched out below me, the old medieval quarter, and the modern city beyond that. I was struck all of a sudden by how alone I was. It wasn’t a realization of loneliness, but one of stillness. The city spread before me, growing out with time, but it seemed important that people still returned there to those ruins, and that I, in particular was there at the top of that hill, in that city, on the other side of the world from most of the things I love. Sitting there felt like the most natural thing in the world and something that was so indicative of what my entire semester has felt like. I won’t go into everything that occurred to me as I was sitting on that hill, but I will say that if there’s one thing I could honestly say will stay with me after this semester is over, it wouldn’t be the French I’ve learned, or the cultural experiences I’ve had, or even the thousands of photographs I’ve taken, it would be that feeling of stillness and the view of growth that time can bring.
Admittedly, that growth wouldn’t have been possible without the people I’ve shared it with along the way. Though so much of my time here has been independent, I couldn’t imagine myself where I am now without having some of the conversations I’ve had. Just this past weekend I went on a goodbye walk through Paris with my friend Ali. She loves that city as a part of herself because in so many ways she has become herself here. We don’t see each other all that often but every once in a while we’ll sit down and talk about our thoughts on being here, things at home, going back, and throughout this semester seeing her grow so much has challenged me to look back on my own growth. So, in doing that, and in attempting to write this post, I had to write about that solitary moment on that hill, but I also have to tell you about another moment in Lyon, a few hours later.
After exploring more around the ruins, entering the basilica, and walking through the park just behind it, I descended the hill in search for something to eat. As I was heading down those steps I saw person after person walking up, tired, counting the steps left. It reminded me of a day I was running in the park and a man taking a walk with his grandson stopped me “Courage!” he said “C’est seulement un peu plus loin! Courage!”. Being approached by strangers here isn’t exactly an oddity but that memory stuck in my mind, and as the woman walking past me on the steps smiled at me, seeing that I must have made the very same climb I told her she didn’t have much farther to go “courage, Madame!”. She laughed, thanking me, and kept climbing.
The rest of that day was spent thinking about the hill and that short conversation with the woman on the steps. As I sat in a bakery later, watching a truly French progression of twins wearing pink tutus, a boy with his face covered in chocolate ganache, a dog carrying a baguette in his mouth, musicians, cyclists, old women, couples, and school children moving in and out to the rhythmic “ensuite, bonjour! – merci, au revoir!” and the punch of the cash register I realized just how necessary that rhythm was. This semester there’ve been a fair share of moments of stillness, just as there was on that hill, and those are important, but inevitably that rhythm needs to resume. I couldn’t just sit on the ruins on that hill looking at all the progress the city had made, I had to go down the hill and participate in the rhythm of the city once again. With a few weeks left here, I’m looking forward to doing just that. Even though thoughts of home are sounding better than a freshly baked baguette does to a hungry traveler, I’ll miss this place and the things I’ve seen here.