Keeping a Foothold in Two Worlds
It is always hard to leave behind the culture one is most intimate with. Even though I have lived in northern Indiana longer than anywhere else, I still feel in my bones that other world: the one that I was born into and breathed for the first fifteen years of my life. I unconsciously learned the gestures, the language, the subtleties of my environment, unaware of its power. Though I was exposed to many cultures and variations of human life in my family setting, the overarching influence was the daily exchanges at school, at the grocery store, with friends. I learned how to navigate the world as a French speaking Belgian, automatically saying hello when entering a store, a bus or a room, greeting my friends with a kiss on the cheek every morning, using public transportation or walking when I needed to go somewhere. Some of these customs I carry so deeply within me, to this day I continue to practice them. After a trip back to Belgium, my daughters finally started to understand some of the things I did that I hadn’t thought twice about.
One of the hardest things to let go of are the relationships: I grew up with these people and they know me. The friends that I’ve made on this side of the ocean only know me in their world. On this trip, I met up with a Belgian friend I hadn’t seen since the sixth grade. We were the best of friends for three years, spending time at each other’s houses, playing together on the playground, doing everything together. She is passionate about Renaissance music and plays the viola da gamba in a period orchestra. Her ensemble was performing in a small Baroque church in a small town southeast of Paris. I thought it might be the perfect opportunity to reconnect. And so, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we took the local train to Brunoy and found our way to the church. As soon as we walked in, Fanchon spied us before we saw her. She laid down her Gamba and bow and came to meet and welcome us. Though our time was short, it was as though time had never advanced. We were back in her parents’ game room, working on projects. Or at my house, cooking in the kitchen. We caught up on our current lives with no fanfare, just two good friends seeing each other again. Once the moment passed and we were on our way back to Paris, I had to think about how deep those bonds are that last a lifetime.
Last week, as I walked down Rue St. Antoine, in Paris, hearing the familiar expressions, smelling the familiar scents, feeling at home though I have been long gone, I smiled at the richness I carry. With my feet solidly in two worlds, that older one still calls to me. For now, I’ll be a cheesemonger in Goshen, like the ones I visited at the market in southern France or in Paris, and continue to recreate a little piece of the world I left behind. And I know some of you are doing the same.