On the plane home to Saint Louis from my family on the east coast, I am two days delayed and anxious. Planes sliding off runways and polar vortexes prompted thoughts of never getting home. Then, there was the thought of my bags not arriving at the airport, the fifteen minute walk from my metro stop through blocked, snowy streets with laden bags and the ever present fear of walking home alone at night (my flight arriving at nine P.M). On the plane, I’m telling myself I should not be ruled by fear. The first time I ever went for a run alone at night, I felt liberated. I ran through the dark streets and said, “If anything happens, at least I wasn’t ruled by fear.”
Nothing happens to obstruct our landing, or my bag arriving. I drag my suitcase up three flights of stairs to the metro stop at the airport terminal and make friends with a lone fellow traveler from Florissant who actually just took the train in the wrong direction and never actually intended to end up at the airport. After twenty minutes, I am on the stairs at my metro stop looking upward through the snow and icy night to see a security guard who is offering to carry my bags for me. I haul it up with a laugh and tell him, Thank you, thank you! Of course, I’m strong and proud enough to refuse. When, I reach the depths of snow drifts and I must haul my load into the neighborhood where I live, I feel nearly exhausted.
It takes crossing the street into the dark and the uncleared sidewalks into at least six inches of snow for me to remember Geneva. It was 2009, and I was leaving Paris in a snowstorm. I was an emotional wreck. From the taxi ride to the train station to the platforms that took me away, tears were constant on my cheeks. On the train, the snow and ice accumulated so fast on the rails that my connection was delayed, and my French phone ran out of minutes on my way to Switzerland where I was going to meet my friend in Geneva before my flight to the United States in the morning. When my train finally arrived, hours late in the city, night had fallen, and the snow had, too. It was deep on the roads and deep in my tired heart, as I pulled my heavy bags out of the train and down the platform. My friend had long since abandoned her post outside the Geneva train station. I was six hours late without being able to let her know why I had not arrived, and I became that soul asking strangers for phone calls, penniless and sad. I was laden in every way possible, relying on the good will of Europeans I didn’t know. For the first person who helped me, the number I had for my friend did not work. Nor did it work on the pay phone I tried. I used my last two Euros to catch a bus in the general direction of the suburb where I knew she lived. Last minute, I was begging strangers on the bus to help me connect with the only person who knew I was lost in this city. Finally, an older woman whose cell phone I was punching numbers on realized that I had the area code wrong, hence why the number hadn’t yet worked. In a miraculous moment, I heard my friend Marie-Gabrielle speak on the other end, “Caroline? Caroline?” She met me in her tiny smart car at the next bus station. Tumbling out, I hugged safety. I hugged being home, and I hugged leaving Paris. She took me home and fed me fondue chinoise, and I sat wrapped in a blanket in her foyer talking with relief until my eyes sagged. I had been lost before but never so unsure I would make it home.
As I dragged my suitcase through the snow in St. Louis just a quarter of a mile walk to my apartment in 2014, I remembered Geneva. If I am tired and sweating and alone this time, dragging a suitcase, I know at least that I am not nearly as tired, scared, and laden as I was in 2009, trying to find a home in a city I didn’t know with no one to know I was lost. Experiences of the past give us what we need to survive the present. I stopped to look up at the stars as I walked that quarter of a mile in the snow in St. Louis, and they gleamed so brilliantly. I instantly felt thrilled. There was no fear or burden. Where there could be complaint, I felt blessed and lucky. I felt the privilege of traveling the world and learning to rely on strangers, stars, and my own two arms. I walked under a lucky star — knowing there would never be a day in my life where I would not draw on the strength I gained in the past. I have not lived this long to succumb to fear or sadness or exhaustion. I have lived this long to know how to rejoice in the moments I have and not the complaints I could find in them.