Turning Twenty In Transit (Biopage Mini-Essay Writing Contest Entry)

On a cold November morning, after attending an exhilarating youth conference in Strasbourg, I was on a train on my way to Paris. My heartbeat was mimicking the rhythm of the rails. I was only 19 years old and blessed with the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Ville des Lumière or ‘the city of lights'. As a young woman from India, raised in a traditional family, most of my choices were made for me. This was my first step into an independent life and it was all very unnerving. An hour into the journey I met a young man who, to my surprise, was also from India. We exchanged life stories as the beautiful French landscapes of freshly cut grass, fauna and wineries painted our windows as they raced by. He invited me for a walking tour in Paris taking place in a few hours, telling me how we would explore the city guided by a tour manager who would narrate to us its dynamic history. Possessing an inherent love of the past, I readily agreed. After reaching Paris I rushed with my heavy suitcase to find the subway and caught the train that lead to my accommodation. Reaching just in time to leave my luggage, I ran back to the street and caught a bus to Saint Michel, where we were supposed to assemble for the tour. On my way, I realized that I was so intent on not being late, I navigated easily through an alien city with a language I didn't speak. A little proud, I smiled at my ability to adapt so quickly to an environment so different from home. Indeed, I was growing up. The tour was very enjoyable as I carefully observed the interiors of Paris painted with flora and Gothic architecture. We were walking along the Seine, the river which holds the spirit of Paris within it, when the sun was engulfed by thick clouds. Soon, I could feel icy droplets of rain on my skin. Each raindrop felt like a sting, reminding me that I was turning twenty soon. We ended the tour in Tuileries Garden, as the sun interrupted the rain, blessing us with its warmth. My friend and I then walked to the Eiffel Tower. Coming from India, a country with a rich heritage, I firmly believe that historic monuments that have witnessed the ravages of war and tranquility of peace are the most precious. They have a story to tell. And so, I always felt that the Eiffel Tower was merely a metallic structure unworthy of praise, much like the French did in earlier times. But I was wrong. The Eiffel Tower emitted magnificence. It was like an anchor of the city, holding it from sinking into the blue skies. We sat on a lonely bench placed on a pavilion just behind the tower, surrounded by green trees slowly rustling in the cold air of the twilight. I was evaluating the photographs I took of the Eiffel on my phone, when my companion reminded me to appreciate the moment I was in. “But we have been here for over an hour” I replied, “there is nothing new to-“ I stopped short in my words as I looked up once again at the majestic tower. It was lit up with a golden light, almost as if with a thousand candles, against the backdrop of the slowly brewing night sky. Suddenly, I could not feel the chill on the tip of my nose or the cold air in my lungs. I felt warm from the glow of the Eiffel, as if someone had tucked me in a cozy blanket with a hot cup of tea. I went to sleep that day feeling like a changed person. On my last day in Paris, I visited the celebrated Louvre. Its high ceilings that housed tremendous artwork made me feel small and insignificant. I visited the intriguing Mona Lisa painting and felt that I could never be as famed as its maker, Leonardo Da Vinci. So what was the point of even trying? The best or worst part about accepting mediocrity was the comfort it provided. I found myself walking once again towards the Tuileries garden behind the Louvre, but this time on a warm sunny day bustling with people and energy. Yet somehow, I was more alone than ever. I felt that independence was equal to isolation. I was walking beside an intricate fountain in the garden, when my melancholic thoughts were interrupted by an old man, just like the sun had interrupted the rain in the very same place on my first day in Paris. The man was in his mid-sixties with grey hair and a thick beard. He muttered something to me in French and grinned. My first instinct was to walk away but his compelling eyes held me back. I looked at him questioningly, signaling to him that I didn't understand French. He happily repeated in English with a thick French accent, “Are you thinking deeply?” I was shocked. He continued, “You should not indulge in your thoughts so deeply, enjoy the present”. He walked away immediately after, but I was transfixed. It was as if God had come to explain to me that the meaning of independence was not isolation, but the pure enjoyment of moments in life you have created for yourself. In those few seconds at the conclusion of my sojourn, I was finally ready to embrace my 20 year old independent self.

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