Am I the only one who thinks about this stuff– Who am I? Why am I the way I am? How did I get to this place? What makes me different than everyone else? I have spent more than a little bit of my time trying to figure out the answers to those questions. I am not a philosopher type. I studied French philosophers enough to get through my literature courses. But I didn’t really understand much of it. Mountain girls don’t really have time for that stuff. We are busy surviving. And then we plan our escapes. I think back on me when I was the age in this picture, which has always been my favorite photo of myself. I think that I was in 5th grade, maybe 6th. I loved this dress. I felt pretty in it. I am pretty sure it was a hand-me-down from one of my talented cousins who could sew up a burlap sack and make it beautiful. I look like my brother, I think. Definitely a Bell. Sorry, Mama Mildred.
I remember sitting in our yard on summer afternoons and occasionally seeing an airplane pass overhead. I always imagined John, Paul, Ringo and George were in that plane, traveling to a concert or maybe back to England. I would wave from my spot on the grass and long to meet Paul. My aunt, who was 11 years older than me, and the very essence of cool introduced me to The Beatles. It was instant love. Still is. My iTunes account houses all the oldies, thanks to a CD given to me by Alex F-B, an advisee a few years back who was a Beatles fan as well. So, the question is… is that when my longing for faraway lands and adventures began? Cool Aunt let me hang out with her occasionally and she studied French in high school. Is that where my obsession began to take root? Or was it Looney Tunes and Pepé Le Pew?
Getting back to philosophy, though, I saw a blog post today by a woman who has become a virtual friend to me and many, many others. She packed up her dreams and moved to France a few years ago. Her post today is about her daughter-in-law’s illness, explaining why she is back in the States. Her son and his wife need her. She is here until they don’t need her. A visit home to see them and the grandbabies turned into more. Life happens. Barefoot Blogger‘s advice struck a chord with me.
The reason I’m telling you this is because I want to share the lesson I’m learning with you.
Don’t wait to enjoy your life.
If you want to travel, travel.
If you want to live abroad, start working on it now.
Life doesn’t wait for you to “get around to it.”
There it is. Maybe when we get to be d’un certain âge we “get” this advice. Or maybe I am just weird, selfish and shallow for wanting to see more, taste more, take more pictures, meet more people like me, see what’s around the corner. A friend just moved to England to teach for a year. This has long been a dream of his. He made it come true. He dreamed about it for a long time. Then he actually arrived, unpacked his bag, opened a bank account and realized that he didn’t have anything to dream about anymore. Now, he worries that since he has crossed that mark he will have nothing to dream about. What if he made a mistake leaving his family and friends behind? Is he shallow for wanting/needing this experience? Why did he need it in the first place? I can tell you that, having been in his shoes (the beginning of The Sabbatical Chef), there are no easy answers. Are you selfish? Maybe. Not everyone gets it. Not everyone needs it. Is it worth it? Oh, yes, it is. Will you come out on the other side a different person? Not fundamentally because you are who you are. But you will see life differently. You will appreciate baseball, American English, hot dogs, and chocolate chip cookies with a new passion. You will feel more complete, more whole after this experience. Will it make you stop looking for the next adventure? I can’t say for sure, but I doubt it. There will still be things to see and people to meet. Go with it. Embrace it. Learn from it. Grow.
Dear Ten-Year-Old Teresa,
Stop worrying so much, my dear girl. You can’t change people who don’t want to change or who feel as if they can’t. They have demons you cannot even begin to understand. But you can’t fix them no matter how many tears you shed or how many Dear God, if … then… you send up to Heaven (it might make you feel better to do that, though, and that’s okay).
Don’t worry about what other people think. It doesn’t really matter in the long run. So what if the boy you have a crush on comes from the “nice” neighborhood and his mother doesn’t approve? She will take back those thoughts someday, trust me on that one. And I hate to tell you, but no matter how much you think that you are hiding it all, people know about what you are going through, but the ones that matter love you anyway and they will always love you.
You will live to be at least 59 years old. You will have two incredible sons who have strong, amazing women who love them and an adorable granddaughter who lights up when you walk into the room. You will have the love of a man who has known you for over half of your life, has seen you at your worst and your best and who still respects you and makes you laugh. And who is one hell of a father to those two boys.
Friends? You will be abundantly blessed in that department. Seriously. Many who love you and support you on a daily basis. Some who will pop into your classroom just to say hi and to see what you are up to. Some you will not see for months and years at a stretch, but who you know so well and love so much that it doesn’t matter. A couple who you know that you can call any time of the day or night and they will grab the car keys and be right there if you need them.
You will be blessed by family members who may live in a different place and have different dreams and they may not understand yours, but that’s okay. They love you unconditionally. They are proud of who you are and you are equally as proud of them. They know you better than anyone, from back when you talked with a different accent and ran around barefoot all summer long chasing lightening bugs.
You will indeed pack that suitcase and see the world. You will visit Paris more times than you can count. You will have French friends who feel like family. Your incredible job will allow you to do this, in fact, it will be a part of your job. You will get paid to take students to France. Can you believe that? You will live in the south of France, work with a chef, eat the most amazing food ever, meet people from all over the world, and write about it. It will change you forever. It will open doors you never imagined possible. Heck, you don’t even know those doors exist right now. You may not ever meet Paul McCartney, but you will still listen to his music and dream of meeting him. You will read so many books about Vincent Van Gogh that you feel as if you know him. You will walk in his footsteps, take the path that leads through a wheat field and kneel at his grave. You will cry every single time you stand in front of one of his self-portraits and Starry Night Over the Rhône. You will look back and wonder how on earth you could have missed the meaning behind Don McLean’s song Vincent back in 1971. You will read Lust for Life in the ’80’s and finally have an aha moment.
Keep wearing pretty dresses, Teresa. It’s more than okay that they are hand-me-downs. You will have a thing for thrift and consignment shops later probably due to those gifts of “new” clothes. Keep reading stories of people in other places and times. Sing, dance, and laugh as often as you can. Keep looking for the next adventure. Don’t wait to have fun and enjoy life. Be grateful. Tell people you love them. Eat good food and when you are legal, drink good wine. Be happy.
I love you.
My great baking adventure these days is baguettes. Oui, c’est vrai.
I took a class, taught by Franca Gilbert, a French teacher friend. She bakes up a storm and sells her goods at local farmers’ markets. Her business is Alimentaire. I am not confident enough to share the recipe for feeding the levain yet. But I can assure you that it is a work in progress. I am a messy baker, but that’s okay. I clean up the messes!
Bon appétit et bonne nuit! It’s okay to be different. Eat good bread. “Life doesn’t wait for you to get around to it.” Remember that.