The answer will come

Washington and Virginia hit high during Monday morning’s office talk. Because from what I've gathered, the scope of globalization includes the misgivings of dear, Mother Nature.

The company I work for hosts their websites through a Virginia based server. And with the power outages that swept the East Cost this past weekend, so too crashed the three sites (and main service) the company provides.

I offered my condolences (partly to steer the conversation clear from any reference to my not having known about the site’s weekend status)-- throwing in my two cents that the power outages had stopped several of my D.C. friends from watching the game. I work with seven other guys; anything sports related, I sense they’d understand.

They laughed. And I’m going to take that to mean that D.C. and I are well off the hook.
Four weeks pass quickly—no longer a surprise given time has a habit of moving faster than wanted.

Work’s going well-- I enjoy the environment and structure it provides for my weekdays. The assignments are repetitive-- intern work as its base. But it’s work that allows my summer stay, so no complaint out of me.

Dinner chez Madame continues as wonderfully as it began. Her son’s visits to the apartment have lessened over the past week; Perhaps Madame’s nagging about getting his hair cut, finally hit a nail. It’d been inching just below his neck-- typically gelled back so as to avoid draping his face. Although he did finally relent, surprising her one afternoon when he came home sporting a fresh cut. But now she’s on about the goatee, which Madame insists needs a trim.

Arien, the former homestay boy I lived with, left this past Saturday, replaced, on Sunday, by a friendly, Brazilian girl. Two new Italian girls, both sharing the tiny bedroom Madame owns two floors up (a room known as a "chambre de bonne," used back in the day as living quarters for domestic help), also moved in Sunday. We all had dinner together, a friendly gesture by Madame given I don’t pay for Sunday dinners.  

It’s funny how fast the flow of new faces come in and out of her home. I think she likes the company, the constant refresher of conversation and personalities. She takes in students from all across the world and I find it amusing to listen to her comments regarding the different nationalities. She believes Asian students are the cleanest (although she finds the smell of their cooking off putting), Brazilians are the friendliest, thinks all Americans are vegetarians and loves Italians' accents when they speak French.

It's fascinating opening your home to students. The loss of privacy it results in, but the vibrancy of a family- like atmosphere fused with a blend of cultures, it, if implemented well, can create.

Madame’s asked after my experience in my former homestay. I’ve told her about the shutter episode, of the toilet paper former Madame would hide from me, of the gifts she'd suggest I'd buy her and of the dinners I took, for the most part, on my own.

It was the dinners I ate alone, that most shocked Madame. For new Madame, dinner time is the most important-- a vital part in fostering a comfortable and natural living environment, while making students feel capable and confident to hold a French conversation past the superficial. From our debate over gay rights, to deeper, religious conversations-- she’s truly something, new Madame. By far different from my experience during my spring semester.
Lili, Mariene and I set out to St. Maur- Creteil, a suburb outside of Paris, Sunday afternoon. We had been told of a Jewish get together (under the alias of barbeque)—and the prospect of meeting other Jews (on my end) and noshing (ok fine, gorging) on kosher meat, sounded quite appealing.

It took 25 minutes by RER to get to St. Maur- Creteil.

But of course:
a) I had lazily decided not to look up the address before coming
b) Lili’s phone chose the moment we arrived to stop offering a functional map and step- by- step, walking directions
c) The owners of the one kosher restaurant we passed (among the slew of Hallal restaurants) had never heard of the street, nor knew of any Jewish get together happening that afternoon. (Apparently not all Jews keep themselves in the loop for all things kosher.)
d) Budget aside, we figured we could splurge on a cab. But over the thirty minutes of the afternoon’s scavenger hunt, only two cabs drove by. Of which, both were full.
e) Only two of the many we stopped, recognized the name of the street. One pointed us towards the wrong road in the complete, opposite direction. And the other switched his motorcycle for his friend’s car to offer us a ride.

Right, because three, young Jewish girls getting into one random man’s car is ever a good idea. Every warning my parents have ever taught me flung into full force. That and the giggles-- mandatory addition to any situation that should mandate slight caution.

But seeing as our options were limited, and my craving for kosher meat outweighed my sensibility for our safety, we accepted. The three of us crammed into the man’s car, Mariene taking the front seat, as Lili and I settled into the back.

We all noticed how quiet the man got, as we approached the host’s house for the afternoon's barbeque—the sound of Israeli music blasting overhead. But it was Mariene who says she saw the man’s facial expression drop as he took in the swarm of men, all wearing kippahs.  

He shooed us out of his car. We thanked him for his generosity, shutting the doors close as he sped away.
It’s a vibrant group, the French Jewish community. With dozens of events per week-- hosted by a range of organizations that target young, Jewish professionals-- they’re quite close, their network of contacts, large. Of the few people we initially interacted with, none were particularly friendly-- several making snide comments as to whether or not we speak French. Which is irritating because, bien sur, we speak French. But among one another, we’d prefer to speak English, merci beaucoup.

Lili, Mariene and I penciled our names onto the sign in sheet, forking over eight euros for lunch. I grabbed a hot dog (kosher chicken, a blessing) to slip into a baguette (because France has yet been introduced to the marvel of a hot dog bun), and settled into a spot in the back corner of the large yard.

It's easy to look on with dislike for the frankness of their comments-- the, in many ways, perceived arrogance that the visitor should speak their language. Even if, you know, they tend to stick to French when they're abroad. Or that my attempt to speak French is often more comprehensible than their English. Sometimes.

But it’s a culture thing. And all it takes is the one person willing to help you break into their circle for them to lessen their defense. It was the event photographer who took charge, that afternoon-- grabbing the event host to come talk to us who, giving us no option but to follow him, pulled up chairs for us to squeeze our way into a circle of people.

It's rare to come across a foreigner at their events. And so to be a new face with a foreign twang to the French accent-- it’s strange for them. It's why I think they guard themselves. It’s a cultural difference-- a difference that is easier to dismiss than let it irritate. Move on, and enjoy the afternoon.
I didn’t have a chance to wish Arien goodbye, as he left early Saturday morning. We'd spent the past few days eating dinner just the two of us given Madame's had prior evening engagements.
Our conversations were interesting-- mostly centered on the differences of his Protestant practices and my Jewish beliefs. He expressed interest in my decision to keep kosher and was intrigued as to what happens should Jews not follow Jewish law.

Well, with 613 commandments, I’d be damned if we followed them all.

He asked if I have a connection with G-d.

A simple, straightforward question. One that should have initiated an immediate yes, on my part. But rather, it was one that stopped me, leaving me to sit there as I tried to think, do I?

I’m sure of my connection with the community, my connection to the religion through the community. But my connection on an individual basis?

And so we unraveled the question- him asking as to why I keep kosher. Because I can’t bring myself to not keep kosher. He wanted to know my thoughts on death, on the world to come. To which responded I don’t know-- it’s not a focus of our prayer, the guiding point for our faith. For him, life on Earth marks the process of preparing for the next world. He's strong in his belief that this world isn't it. But, in my own personal belief, I think it is. I believe in a focus on the fulfillment of our lives in this world. Of the value of family and community, of love for life-- all virtues I find through Judaism.

It took two days to think it through, to come clear to the answer as to if I have a connection to G-d. It was as I was leaving Chabad, Friday night, that it finally came to me- that yes, yes I do have a connection,

But it left me unsettled, that the question had stopped me. Because at the moment Arien asked, I felt that I should have been sure.

In life, I don't think we can be sure of everything. Life's a constant search for the answers, for the definition of ourselves, a validation for our beliefs. And while the answers do come, eventually, so too do they change.
I think that's the key to a stronger understanding of who we are-- of acceptance of the change and of constant reevaluation of the answer. It's honesty with ourselves, of our emotions, desires, thoughts and doubts. Because without the honesty how do we come to the understanding?

I told Madame that it was the 4th of July, pointing to my red shirt and blue sweater I decided to wear for work. She wanted to know if it was also Obama's birthday.

Not quite.

It's unreal how little time I have left. I've looked into changing my plane ticket, leaving a few days later as a friend invited me to go to Nice. But it's a steep fee to change the date, and I guess at some point, I'll have to come home anyway.

I'm lucky to be here-- lucky for how remarkable of a journey these past five months have turned out. I remember a conversation with my mother, the second Friday after arriving in Paris, telling her about my evening at Chabad and the walk Kathryn and I had taken, following Shabbat dinner, from the Champs Elysees to the Eiffel Tower. The experience had all seemed so new, so fresh. I had no way of knowing how close of a friendship I'd develop with Kathryn, how quickly I'd fall for the city. And I had no idea, at the time, how significant of a role Chabad would play in my experience of this summer. I remember telling my mother that I wonder if one day I could make a life for myself here.

Who knows where I'll be a year from here, where my career, where my life will take me. 
To that, I don't have the answer. But that’s ok because eventually, the answer will come. 

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