It has been said that “The difference between hope and despair is a different way of telling stories from the same facts.”
Well here are the facts: We’ve been living in France for 8 1/2 months now, without work, without a car, and for 7 of those months without our own place. Getting reestablished in any normal sense of the word has been unimaginably complicated, with a torrential onslaught of administrative back and forth that leaves our heads spinning after every encounter. We’ve lived in four different countries over four years, and we’re exhausted. Drained. Spent. Dear friends of ours from the US knew we’ve been having a tough go of it, and wanted to help. They surprised us with tickets to Barcelona to meet up with them and their family for a weekend getaway this month. A chance to have a break from the stress, take a breath, and be with loved ones while discovering a beautiful city together. While checking in for our flight, we found a problem. The particular status I currently have in the country would not permit me to reenter France were I to leave. We never went to Spain, never saw our friends.
Those are the facts, but here’s the story:
I cannot tell you how crushing it was to go from a place of such excitement to one of bitter disappointment over the course of a few hours. You know that feeling after prolonged discouragement when someone offers you a hug and you just know that’s exactly what you need? Or they make you laugh and that simple laughter between friends reminds you of lighter time? We needed that hug. We needed that laughter. We needed our friends. And we were so excited! We hadn’t even remembered what it felt like to be excited about something in months, so in their gesture alone, our friends gave us that gift. They texted us at 1 pm to say they had just arrived at the apartment they’d rented for us all and couldn’t wait to see us, Were we far away? We felt sick to tell them not only would we not be there on time, but we wouldn’t be there at all. After a sleepless night with our stomachs in knots, it took all our energy to simply unpack our bags and eat the sandwiches I’d made for the trip.
If you’ve ever been through rough moments in your life, you’ll understand me when I say that all disappointments that come during that period can serve as a gauge for how close you are to the surface of the water, where you can breathe. Some letdowns feel like boulders heaved onto your chest, forcing you downwards to the iciest depths. But with effort, (and faith) you wriggle free of the weight and continue to struggle upwards, where hope floats.
What happened was deeply disheartening, but that’s not the story. The story is what happened that evening.
The day had been quiet and somber. We’d phoned the sous-préfecture and further confirmed I was not allowed to travel. (Thanks for never once mentioning that in all our meetings and correspondences!) This further fueled our desire to make advancement on my visa, so Mathias furiously wrote letters and filled forms. Not exactly the day we’d planned… leisurely strolling through the streets of Barcelona with our best friends. But then it happened. I was reading on the couch, he was at his computer. He pushed his chair out from the desk and came toward me. Music began flooding out of the speakers as he extended his hand and pulled me onto the floor. There we danced, holding each other tightly and swaying in our pajamas to Brandi Carlile’s “The Story”
And that’s when we knew. We had broken the surface. We were breathing.
The next day was gorgeous and sunny. We walked into our little town and had lunch in the old section at a place called L’Art d’Oise. The food was as equally rustic as it was refined, as you can see from the dessert. We shared a tiny pitcher of Bordeaux and realized this was our first time eating out together since we moved to France. The fresh autumn air enveloped us as we walked home, hugging us comfortingly. Small dogs barked valiantly behind the fences as we sailed past, making us laugh remembering a Haitian proverb, “Ti chen gen fòs devan kay mèt li” (A little dog is brave in front of his master’s house) So in the end, we got our hugs, and we got our laughter.
Our weekend started off with a huge disappointment. We’re not happy we missed our trip and our friends, not one bit. But we didn’t sink. Our story is not one of despair. It’s one of hope. And it’s ours for the telling.