Maxine A. is currently a junior at SYA France from Canterbury School (FL). Read more of her work throughout the year here.
Matisse looked at me, and then back at Paris. It was an overwhelming sight, and we watched the city go by as light chatter hung in the air like balloons, our words floating higher and higher. The sun hit the Centre Pompidou with a magnificent wonder, as if enveloping this part of the city in a hazy crescent. "I want to lie there," Matisse pointed to the ground, where tiny people went about their lives, seemingly distant from mine. Her idea felt inexplicably great in the moment, and I nodded.
We lay there, and I felt absolutely drenched in the sunlight, in a way I did not expect of February. My head found its way in the lap of a friend as Matisse watched the sky with incredulousness. Time passed slowly as we sat, watching others make their excited entrance into the Pompidou, the wonders not yet revealed. I wanted to remember this feeling, mid-February miracles of bright, beautiful Paris and the immense satisfaction of being with my friends. In this exact moment, I felt youthful and liberated, with an intense need to observe the world.
I looked over to a group of teens that mirrored us, about twenty yards away. They were most likely French, all in the middle of rolling cigarettes and cracking jokes. I realized, in that moment, that I felt no gap between me and them. I felt no disparities, no 'us' and 'them', but a kinship. They were like me, looking for a place to fit in, for a style to make their own. A wash of realization came down on me in the glow of noon time in Paris. I felt a connection with the earth, the language, and the people that I hadn't experienced before. It was as if I was exactly where I was meant to be in that moment. Maybe it was Paris, the energy that flowed to my core from the rhythm of the city. Or maybe it was a moment of solid connection with my year in France, with the people and culture, finally melding with my surroundings enough to sink into the streets with an oozing calm.
Ultimately it's not a journey of immersion but one of emergence
There have been other moments like this, ones of true reflective thought, wherein I have felt one with the life I live abroad, exactly where I need to be. It is something of magnificence to experience and it cannot be replicated by anything else. To travel, to take a journey into unknown lands, is an explosion of emotion, reflection, and introspection. A journey of far distances and unknown quarter's kick-starts the one of the mind, in that, with time, your mental and physical travel synchronizes in a beautiful crescendo.
Travel is physical but also not, and you must get lost, like in a maze, before realizing your destination. There are days when I walk aimlessly, traversing my mind's bounds with a sense of despair. I ask myself certain questions: what am I doing abroad? Where will I go after this? Then I am lost, trying to grapple with these questions that seem unanswerable. Rebecca Solnit, a long-time writer and activist, gives her piece on this matter in her essay, "The Far North of Experience", wherein she crafts a tender and thought-provoking piece on self reflection. She writes, "The end of the journey through the labyrinth is not at the center, as is commonly supposed, but back at the threshold again; the beginning is the real end...It's not ultimately a journey of immersion but emergence." I emerge then, as writes Solnit, from the darkness of the maze into a warm day in February, my head light and thoughts drifting. The most important aspect of the journey is coming out at the other end and reflecting on the metaphysical. You survive; find your destination, even if you have been there for five months already.