Hello you wild magnolias
Just waiting to bloom.
There’s a little bit of all that inside of me and you,
Thank God even crazy dreams come true…
Carrie Underwood, “Crazy Dreams”
When my high school French teacher first announced a ten day class trip to France, set for the summer of 2000, I remember thinking that I probably wouldn’t be going, despite my heart lifting a little at the possibility. It was a huge deal, I thought, and would my parents really say yes to the price tag that came with it?
I remember walking into the kitchen before dinner that evening. Mom was cooking at the stove and dad was at the sink, still in his work clothes. I remember being hesitant, not sure if I should even bring it up, not sure what they would say or if it was even a possibility; I wondered if I should even be getting my hopes up. My parents had always been supportive, but would they be ok with this?
I nervously toyed with a piece of paper on the counter and nonchalantly mentioned the trip, not even forming it as a question. I thought that I already knew their answer, and I was prepared for it. Their enthusiasm took me by surprise, however, and now, years later, I feel ashamed that I didn’t know them better than that.
“That’s wonderful!” My mom had exclaimed.
“Really?” I asked, still doubtful.
“Yeah,” Dad said as he chuckled in that familiar blend of words and amusement.
“Susan, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The excitement in her voice was infectious, the phrase echoing as I contemplated the possibility. With those words, and some informational meetings on behalf of my teachers, what I thought would merely be a lifelong aspiration, a brushed-aside fantasy of a dreamer, became a reality: I was going to France.
As the months before the trip turned to weeks, and the weeks sped into days, the knot that had set up permanent residency in my stomach intensified. This would be a trip of firsts for me: first plane ride, first train ride, first time in another country, first time away from my parents for an extended period of time…I was a wreck inside, trying desperately to hold it all together, a toxic blend of nerves and excitement. It didn’t help that I only knew the people in my class as acquaintances — some of us had gone through elementary school together, but we weren’t necessarily close. Could I do this? Could I get on a plane without the comfort of family, without the security of a best friend?
“Susan, do you want to go?” I could hear the annoyance in my Mom’s voice as we packed my suitcase, but now when I look back on it, I wonder if it was also masking her concern.
“Yes,” I answered firmly.
“Then stop complaining.”
But complaining was what I did, didn’t she know that? I worry, I fret, I envision the worst case scenario, and then I’m fine (my grandmother was the same way; I blame genetics).
But I really was fine. After a tearful goodbye and some airplane anxiety, excitement took over. When my teachers, knowing how nervous I was, checked in on me, I was already settled in and smiling, thanks in part to my seatmate, who would end up becoming a good high school friend. Of course I was homesick, of course I left part of my heart back with my family in my small town, but I wasn’t alone, in reality or in heart, and I was flying towards what had once only been a dream.
My French class relaxed on the summer beaches of Nice and Cannes, toured the esteemed castles of the Loire Valley, and immersed ourselves in the history, architecture, and artistry of Paris. The longer we were there, the deeper in love I fell with the country — the language, the food, the culture — and the more I learned about myself. I felt like I was home.
This trip changed my life, of that I’ve never been more certain. Without someone to lean on, I was forced to break out of my shell and become more independent, confident, and assertive. Those ten days were an awakening — for the first time, I couldn’t care less what people thought of me: I tried everything, saw everything, opened up and befriended everyone. For the first time, I shed that reserved layer to which I’d so closely clung and finally let loose. I had found myself.
And now, in a few days time, I’ll be ready to do that again.
Tomorrow: Thank God Even Crazy Dreams Come True: Part II