Living abroad here in France has been everything I could have ever hoped for. This experience has been a shining highlight in my life and I am proud of us for saying yes. There is so much I'll miss but even more that I'm looking forward to as we take this next step and move back home. When friends ask how we are feeling about leaving France, all we can say is that it's time. It just feels right and we are ready. I've been thinking back to how I felt the day we left San Francisco. I was an emotional wreck, sure we were doing the right thing, but maybe not sure at all. I was reluctant, apprehensive. I don't feel that way now. All the rooms of our apartment are empty and the walls are bare, causing every sound to bounce and echo, amplifying all our thoughts. Thoughts that say, Let's go. We are ready to move on. And as we move on, we will be taking the memories and lessons of our time here along with us. There are many ways in which France has changed my perceptions and beliefs for the good. I discovered I have more patience that I thought and reaffirmed the fact that I still have a lot to learn. About everything. Isn't that exciting? Here are the Top Ten things I learned in France: 1. Take your time. No one is in a hurry here. Not in restaurants, not in line, not ever. Life should be savored not rushed. 2. Just walk. There have been 2 times in my life when I was at my best weight and feeling my healthiest. In both of those instances I did not have a car. Not a coincidence. 3. Use your manners. In France, you do not go into a boutique, a grocery store, the gas station, a waiting room, anywhere without saying Bonjour as you enter and Au revoir as you leave. Everyone is addressed as Madame or Monsieur and you always say your SVPs and mercis. For some reason the French have been given a bad rap and everyone assumes they are rude and hate Americans. This couldn't be further from the truth. 4. You're never fully dressed without a scarf. It keeps you warm, it dresses up your outfits, it doubles as a blanket on planes. So multi-functional, no wonder every French person - man or woman - consider a scarf to be a wardrobe staple 5. Stop talking. I talk. A lot. And here in France, most of the time I just couldn't. The inability to communicate is incredibly humbling. There were many times it made me feel frustrated and more times it made me feel stupid. But the advantage is that I learned I don't have to be talking all the time. I don't have to fill every silence with words. Instead, I learned to listen. 6. Don't work too hard. You've heard the saying "work to live, don't live to work"? Ya, the French have got that down cold. It sounds lazy, but it just makes for a better life. Everyone's happier this way. 7. Never skip dessert. Ever. 8. Try everything once. Since living here in Europe I've eaten snails, frog legs, rabbit, duck glands, veal kidneys, blood sausage, goat, and fried crickets to name a few. I stopped short at horse, I just couldn't go there. But everything I tried, I liked. 9. Life is better with butter. I can't remember the last time in my life when I ate so much butter. It's an indulgence that's worth every bump in your cholesterol. Everyone deserves a little decadence. 10. You never stop needing your people. When my cousin Greer was little, she once cried out during a family reunion, "Where are my people?!" Now it's a little joke that my family says when we need each other. You can't get through life without your people - your friends and family who know you best. And it's not that I thought I didn't need those people, it's just that I thought I would be ok with living all the way over here for a long time without them. Maybe even forever. I thought visits and phone calls and Skype dates would be enough. But they're not. France is far. I feel far. I need my people and I can't wait to be closer to them.
As I secured the lock to the bridge on Tuesday, I thought about everything that we have been through in the last two years. All the amazing adventures Michael and I have had, the obstacles we've faced and overcome, and how we've changed as a couple and as individuals. We came here as three and we're leaving as four. All four of us are represented on this lock, and although we know the lock will be cut off and removed by the authorities in probably a matter of weeks or even days, we still plan to come back someday and look for it. Someday we'll be back with Ramona to show her, our best souvenir, where her life began.
Au revoir, Montpellier. À bientôt.