Paris is all but a remote destination. Traveling to France for my yearly pilgrimage to the homeland, however, is always fraught with anticipation of the familiar and fear of what has changed. What if I finally feel like a stranger at “home”? Is thirteen years away enough to no longer call it home? Is a lifetime? More importantly, what are Parisian women wearing this season (something edgy yet classy and form-fitting) and will I look ridiculous in my pink Uniqlo puffy coat (oui)?
Spending ten consecutive days with the family, including two days in a tiny sky village? A notion more remote than Antarctica.
My family is lovely and generous and polite and smart and as tight-lipped as clams protecting precious pearls. We do not talk. At all. Ever. At times we ponder the weather, my grandmother’s neighbor’s worsening arthritis, and the slightly too oily salad dressing we tasted at lunch – they should have used raisin seed oil instead of canola, obviously. We do not, however, talk about our feelings, our disappointments, or our fears. Certainly not about our wildest dreams. We can spend hours in the car (mother + father + brother) and be happily mute the entire time. We can last two hours eating at a restaurant and exchange only a handful of words. The other night, we debated why the guy two tables over was wearing flip flops at snow camp.
I know my family cares, I know they love me, and I know they have interesting things to say. Why can’t we just talk about it?
Yesterday I went snowshoeing with my brother, who’s the tightest-lipped of the bunch. We got up, had breakfast, rented gear, got dropped off and went on a hike exchanging on the requisite words for the tasks at hand. I expected a quiet day; a chance to get lost in the snow-blanketed forest and let the mind wander. Not so. Maybe it was the remoteness of our location, the deafening silence, or too many cups of coffee, but 500 yards into the hike, my brother developed a severe case of verbal diarrhea. We talked for 4 miles straight. Mostly we talked about why we don’t talk as a family – haha, I knew I wasn’t crazy! We talked about my job interviews and why he hates Paris and all the annoying things our grandmother does. It was incredible. I wanted to pump my fist and scream “he talks!” At the end of the day, we had grown quiet again, as one does when the end is in the sight and the day’s exhaustion suddenly overcomes you, especially when the end involves savory potato pancakes in your dinner plate. I said something about seeing the end of the trail. He replied, after some time: “You exceeded my expectations. I am proud of you.” He said it jokingly, the way you tell a friend you love her outfit when in fact you wouldn’t be caught wearing it in any time zone. I said thank you with an equal amount of sarcasm.
Later, it dawned on me that he had been dead serious back there at the end of the trail. He was proud of me for completing the hike without too much huffin’ and puffin’. He said it as a joke when in fact it was anything but a joke. Chiding is his love language. How many times had I misinterpreted his comments before? How many times had I assumed he was poking fun at his big sister when in fact he was earnestly talking to me?
Sometimes it takes traveling to the most remote of places to feel the true depth of our connectedness.