Saturday, July 3, 2010

Whatever your faith, it's beautiful.

I've always felt a little lost when it comes to religion. Growing up, Church wasn't a mandatory thing, and when I went with my friends I just listened and went more just so I could spend time with them and their families. While I support 100% each individual's religious practices, going to Church or Saturday Services was never a religious event for me. And it didn't occur to me until middle school that that wasn't normal for someone who went pretty often.

And then of course, when a few events changed my life at a young age, I started to question why anyone would want to believe in God, especially if such horrible things happened to a girl who was only twelve years old. So for a while, I was bitter with the concept of religious practices, giving all your faith and hope to one belief. I wanted to make my own way of life, and follow my own morals. They were morals I had always been raised with, and my mother isn't particularly religious either, so I know her morals didn't come from Temple, or the Bible, or any other religious manuscript. At that point in time, I knew I could follow my own way and make it out all right.

"Toute seule dans le jardin", Luxembourg, 2010

When high school hit me, and things worsened a bit, I tried to explain to myself that bitterness would help nothing. So instead of casting off the concept of God, I simply disagreed with it and believed in a higher order, something out of human hands, but not necessarily one creator of the world. And again, for a teenage girl, that was very hard to accept. And to be able to discuss, or defend. I still went to Church services with friends, but was more hurt by not being included or not feeling welcomed at times.

When I traveled to France with PNH, I saw some of the most beautiful Cathedrals in the world. I stepped inside the walls of history, where people came to beg for forgiveness, beg for good health and pray for a good season. These people all truly believed in something higher than themselves. And for me, I tried to feel that same way. I sat in the most beautiful church of all of Paris and talked to myself, hoping a more powerful voice would enter. But it never did. So I knew I wasn't meant to believe, or to have this kind of faith. And the search ended.

"Nous avons peur", Notre Dame, 2010

When Shay died my whole world collapsed. A young, vibrant life, lost so violently-- to me, had no excuse. No reasonable explanation could dictate to me why one of my best friends was killed late in the night, while his father was out of town. Even to this day I find myself with the same hating thoughts from time to time. And they're not healthy. It's never a healthy lifestyle to be so consumed with confusion, anger and frustration.

But to try to cope with Shay's death and the history that floated in my mind, I restarted the search for God, or for understanding this January. I found a Church who's Chapel felt warm and welcoming even on the coldest day in Miami...which happened to be 38 degrees. And living in Miami, I definitely didn't own a coat. I walked in and was greeted by a wonderful Pastor, her husband and a sweet couple who sat in the same pew as I did for the first 8 weeks to make sure I felt welcome. I followed every service and tried my hardest to pray and understand the scripture. And for a few weeks I truly felt like things were changing for me. I felt more at ease with the world and I even felt good about most of the scripture readings.

As the semester pressed on, I again started to feel distanced. But instead of angered, I just felt blank. There was no emotion towards going to Church or not. So naturally I found myself very confused. I still went for the company and for the non-Biblical lessons, but I wasn't studying at home as much and I certainly didn't schedule my week around going to church on Sunday as much.

This summer, since I left for Europe religion hasn't been an important part of my life. It's not that I forgot about it because I still read daily scriptures, but I found myself not praying as much. And when I learned about the problems my family was facing, I told myself I couldn't pray for good health because I hadn't been to Church in ages. I have little respect for those who run to a Church when things get just a little bit hard. So I relied on hope, on faith, that the doctors would heal the ailments my family members faced. And it worked. But I never told myself that God didn't have a hand in it. Because I know some of my family believe that God did, and I 100% respect that notion.

But onto the point of this blog. All of these things combined have helped shape my religious beliefs, but this trip is starting to change them yet again. Walking to school, riding the metro, getting stitches and even dining in small cafes I see so much pain and self-destruction in the world. And I can't even talk about the world in a greater sense because I was only in a few districts of one major city.

Every corner I turned I either saw a woman huddled over a cane with a dirt covered hand out, one small mangled foot revealed from under her skirt; a man sleeping against a wall with a puppy in his lap, sleeping just the same; or even children walking around trying to sell pieces of paper with prayers written on them for spare change. For me, if God created everyone just the way they were meant to be, and everyone is perfect in their own sense, how do you explain those people? There is no way that every single one of them had a perfect life before and they, themselves messed it up. Children who are born into poverty hardly stand a chance at getting away from it. And people who lose their jobs but have ailments that require medical attention literally wither away in the streets.

"Le chien innocent", La Rue l'Arbalete, 2010

Most of the time people just pass them by and pay no mind. But I see every single one of them. I see every single diseased foot, coughing chest, torn pair of pants, and sun burned back. And you honestly can't blame them for turning to bottles of wine, there's no other way to stay warm. Today I was on the Metro going to a Museum in the 16th district and a man stepped onto the train and asked everyone for a few cents so he could call a shelter across town to try to reserve a room. He had lost his job and was unable to find another. He also mentioned that this summer there will be a lot of homeless shelters being closed from over-crowding and not enough funding. For me, if there is a God, what good is it to put people back out on the street where skin diseases and fleas run rapid through the gutters?

I hope I'm not sounding bitter, because I'm not. I understand that God cannot help everyone in the world, and you have to help yourself. But there's a point when self-help isn't enough. There comes a point in everyone's life where you need someone to offer their hand, or their home for the night. If we all just rely on ourselves and turn to God for help from time to time, nothing will get accomplished. You can't boil water without heat and you certainly can't expect miracles to happen without a little help.

"Personne n'aide jamais", La Rue l'Arbalete, 2010

This summer I found out that I can't be satisfied with changing one heart at a time. Because I tried to help people one day at a time and I would turn the corner and find another tragedy at my feet. And that's fine if you want to tell me that "you can't help everybody", but alas my friend, I can and will help the world, with or without the help of a Higher Power.

The end has come.

I won't necessarily call it the end because I know it's not really the end. Something inside is telling me I will be back, with certain people, or I'll at least be able to see them. I know I'm not finished learning from Rosine's plethora of knowledge and wisdom. And I know in my heart that the Three Musketeers will be reunited in Philadelphia, or in Miami. Part of me wishes it was easier to see everyone again, but nothing in life is ever truly easy.

It's raining in Paris today. Storming actually. The first relief from the summer heat in almost three weeks. Sure it rained a little one week, but nothing like this. It always seems like when I am sad to leave a place, the sky cries with me. And it's never just a few tears and then sunshine bliss part two. It's a day long event of torturous feelings, consuming the lives of everyone. Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic, but what's Paris without a little drama?

I don't know if I can bring myself to truly believe I am leaving. Maybe it's because the end approached so quickly, none of the group could really grasp that it was in fact coming. We spent the last few days together talking about how our trip ended up circling back to where it all began.

"Tours", The Loire Valley, 2010

"It's so funny because this all started with just a couple of bottles of wine among 12 strangers in front of the Louvre and now we're ending with just a couple of bottles of wine among 12 friends in front of the Eiffel Tower along the Seine." --M.E.P.

I don't weep for leaving people behind. I weep for temporarily leaving people behind I have yet to even begin to understand. It only took a few weeks for me to fall in love with a few of them, but it will be months before we see each other again. And I can only hope that we do in fact see each other again.

Sure, I made a lot of mistakes while I was in Paris. Missed the last metro a few times, so I had to stay out all night. I slept through a couple of classes and even missed one small excursion so I could nap. But I know that I came here to figure out why I make the messes I do. I came here to understand myself just a little bit better, and to start to grasp the world around me just a little bit more as well. Not only have I learned a lot about how my mind works and why sometimes I make the mistakes I do, but I learned a lot about how the world itself functions. I could finally see how an entire city interacts, on foot, and I saw firsthand how strangers can become friends without doing so in the boundaries of a classroom.

I fell in love with a few new friends, an entire city, and a lifestyle I hope to always follow. When I arrived in Paris my heart was much smaller-- not Grinch sized, but smaller. And now as I start to leave Paris I know my heart has grown a tremendous amount. I'm not afraid to walk up to people and vice versa; I'm not afraid to be approached for directions, in fact I now welcome it. And after seeing how people suffer here, I have much for respect for the lives they lead and for the help they deserve to receive.

"La Fontaine a Saint Sulpice", Marche Bibliophile, 2010

Top 12 Events in Paris: (in no particular order)
1. Marching along the Seine at sunrise to lay down at Notre Dame.
2. Fireworks show at Saint Cloud
3. Lunches at Luxembourg Garden
4. Centre Pompidou
5. Sitting like school children in every Art Museum for Art History Class.
6. Street performances every night at Saint Michael's Fountain
7. Madame Mellado's grammar class
8. Playing/Talking in the forest at Chenonceau
9. Dancing late into the night
10. Going to Musee de l'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris with Rosine.
11. Shopping with Corinne on Rue Mouffetard
12. Sacre Coeur & Montmartre afternoon excursion

"Chere Rosine et Moi", Chez Madame Dru, 2010

To the beautiful city of Paris, you now possess a large part of my heart and even larger part of my soul. Take good care of it for me until I return.