I’m partially recovered from my travels. At least I’m no longer hovering on the brink of starvation. I came home to an empty cupboard on a French holiday, meaning everything is closed. I realize commemorating the end of WWII is very important but so is my need for corn chips. How sad when just last week I waltzed into a giant grocery store at 7 pm on a Sunday to buy cotton underwear. And had I been thrust into some underwear/salad dressing/Saran Wrap emergency at 3 am, I would have been fine as the store never closes. Ever. It’s official. Of all the things about Canada to miss, this kind of convenience is the hardest thing to be without.
I also came back to a new President. Cripes, Socialist, Centre-Left, Communist, what the hell do I know about French politics? What I do know is Sarkozy was the only person I could understand on the television. I turn my back for 10 days and he’s out and without my consent. I haven’t heard from the new guy yet so we’ll see if I can make heads or tails out of what he has to say for himself.
At any rate there’s been some time to come down from the “tour” and, like always, I take to thinking. I’m relieved to no longer be talking about the blook morning, noon and night. I went to Canada with no expectations for the book, so the fact that it is doing well and making people smile is a bonus. My only concern was that I would humiliate myself and so far I think I can say that bullet was dodged.
I did have a very real and unspoken fear about going back, specifically that I would want or need to stay; that 24 hour stores, shelves lined with Miracle Whip and sour cream and the many people I miss so much would join forces to make returning to France impossible. I had one very difficult moment of push and pull (also known as wailing in despair) after my last night Halifax. I had such a marvelous time surrounded by the love I left behind that I had to ask myself THE question: can I really walk away from this again?
But I didn’t have much time to consider it really so by the time I got to St. John’s, I felt solid again. Then I spent time with family and friends, stood on the shore that I hadn’t seen for almost 10 years and met a former version of myself on every corner, all powerful enough to raise another question: do I really know what the hell I’m doing?
Ironically, in the end, it was the convenience-driven underwear run that settled it. It was the first time I’d been alone during the whole trip. I was driving along, coincidentally (or maybe not), the route I travelled so many nights on call, past the hospitals where I trained, the church I attended back in the days of obligation, my high school and a song came on the radio that triggered a cascade of memory so strong I could almost feel myself being transported back in time. Was I right to leave this place? Don’t I belong here? My entire life flashed before my eyes like a bad 80’s movie complete with spiral perm and acid washed jean jacket.
And suddenly (much like I imagine Buddha achieved enlightenment), the answer materialized in my head and my heart. For whatever reason I was absolutely certain that I had done the right thing. All the right things in fact. I already knew that I had no regrets, but knowing your decisions were the right ones is something entirely different. It was a powerful moment. I’ve taken many a wrong turn in my life, but they have all led me here, facing forward and, for once, in the right direction.
I left Canada, now a place I used to live, with new memories and a strengthened resolve to make this wacky life work. Oodles of questions were asked and some remain unanswered: Will you stay in France? What will you do for work? Will you write another book? As for the question I was asked by many people (most memorably by a beautiful young couple at Chapters in St. John’s): Are you happy? Now I know for sure the answer is oui.