Sometimes God is a brick wall, so that you won’t miss Hir when you’re running in blind panic in whatever direction is available.
This was going to be story about how I failed today. It changed.
I will travel to You, Lord, through a thousand blind alleys.
You want to bring me to You through stone walls.
I’ve been trying to be quiet about it–because God, we’re in France, what is there to be depressed about?–but I have been getting more and more depressed in the week (!) since we’ve been here. Some of it is the light (or lack thereof), and an internet friend is very kindly sending me a light box, which I am almost positive will help. Some of it has been the slow start: I want to be RIDING HORSES and MAKING FRIENDS and VOLUNTEERING, and I’ve talked to maybe 10-15 French people total, so far? And most of those conversations are either in pantomime or English? And my stupid perfectionist brain thinks that if I’m not talking in fluent French, the connection doesn’t count? Some of it is the (really dumb) fact that my fingernails got really long, so I couldn’t snap my anxiety meds in half to take 1/2 a dose in the morning (I am authorized by my AWESOME psychiatrist to take 1 at bedtime and add 1/2 in the morning if I need to), so I weaned myself down to 1 at bedtime when EVERYTHING ABOUT BEING IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY still petrifies me with fear. It’s hard to make friends when you have to give yourself a pep talk in order to take the bus.
So…after T. combed my hair (he gets the back to lay flat much better than I do) and I put 2 bus schedules, a bike map, my Kindle, my French phrasebook, three forms of identification, and about €50 in my tiny purse, and I marched out to the street to find the nearest bus stop. I spent the whole time grumbling to myself anxiously. But I managed to get on a bus, and when I discovered that I was €0.10 short of my two-ticket fare, I fumbled through my purse and found the extra change.
I also spent the whole bus ride terrified that I was going to miss my stop. What if I didn’t remember what the train station looked like? There are thirteen stops between where I got on and where I want to get off but what if I miss one of the stops where no one is waiting? Even so, Metz is a pretty-ish city, even the residential outskirts.
I did get off one stop too soon, because I saw the train station in the distance and thought that the stop that someone had buzzed for must be the station stop. It wasn’t. It was actually at the entrance to a seminary, but it only took me ten minutes or so to find the part of the street near the train station I was looking for, and another five to find the bike rental shop.
Success! I had survived the bus and the bike shop was still open! And they even spoke English!
…and they needed a €250 security deposit to go along with the €30 for a three-months-rental. I did not have €250. I didn’t even have a credit card.
“Sorry!” they said. “Come back on Monday!”
I was too disappointed to try to wander around the city more, even if it was pretty, so I attempted to find the bus stop for a return journey. I walked. And walked some more. And kept walking. Eventually I found a bus stop. None of the right buses. Found a map–hmm, I’ve gone way too far north, suspected as much. Well, I don’t want to turn around. Might as well walk a little further to the next bridge over the river, and then south on the other side. I’ll find the right bus stop eventually. Or I’ll walk home.
Half an hour later, I’m lost. Not super-lost: I actually have a really good innate sense of direction and Metz is well-signed (my dad is a traffic engineer; I get to be a signage snob), but Metz currently has a huge traffic project going to put in a tram system, and it is totally screwing up roads and bus routes. But I’m headed in the right direction; I’ll get home (or to another bus and from there to the right bus and home) eventually. Even if the neighborhood looks really sketchy and I’m getting really cold and my breath is fogging up my glasses and there is a huge amount of road construction so no buses. Fuck. Crying.
And then–there were bells. Somewhere off in the distance, tolling the time–not the time? Still ringing? I listened for a direction. That way-ish. Up that hill? Probably–fuck it, I am NOT climbing that hill. Oh well. Walk on–still tolling. Louder? Playing from someone’s house? Yes, damn. Wait, no. Further on. Probably up that hill still. Keep walking.
No, they’re getting closer. Up ahead! And still tolling, church bells, getting louder, and I broke into a run, regardless of my shoes, faster and faster and–yes, there it was. A big churchy-looking building. Sprinting now. And there–a sign–St. Bernard. Yes, rather, a rescue dog in the darkness. As I stepped inside–I am not fucking kidding–the bells stopped tolling.
The thing (apparently) about French Mass is that people are not quiet before or after the service. There’s lots of jovial catching up with all of one’s friends. Another thing: it’s cold. Church buildings were built pre-indoor heating and air conditioning. No one takes their coat off.
It was a family/children’s Mass (which meant that I could understand 1/10 words of the homily), and there were four seven-year-old boys who were becoming catechumen (a stage preparing for baptism). Their sponsors made crosses on their ears, lips, hearts, shoulders, foreheads, and possibly their eyes. I happy-cried. My sweat started drying in my boots.
Those of you who don’t particularly like your Jesus in wafer form may be happy to know that French Catholic Churches have much higher quality wafers of Jesus than US churches of any kind.
His name was Abbé DeBaker (sp). We bonded over having last names that were both very obviously professions. He had been a welding engineer until he was 36, and then became a priest and had been a priest for 30 years. I told him, “Congratulations” and he laughed. The church was less than 4km from our apartment (I told you I had a good sense of direction), and he suggested a more direct way to come next time. He spoke a good amount of English (waaaaaay more than “a little bit”) and I asked questions in my tiny French vocabulary. Because of construction, he couldn’t take me to my door, but he was close enough for horseshoes. I said “Merci beaucoup” again, and he said “You’re welcome” and “Salut to your husband!” I said, “See you next week.”
And then I came home and cried, because sometimes God punches you in the face, because you won’t hear Her any other way.