I hope you’ve had a good week. I’ve had a couple of really busy weeks, and I didn’t have the time or the calm to write to you peacefully. After more than fourteen months, a huge moment happened in my life. The Covid numbers came down just enough in France, and in the US, and with many people vaccinated, I decided to brave the trip I have put off for fourteen months: I was scared of the health risks, but I took the bull by the horns, and was reminded of one of the sayings on my office wall: Courage is not the absence of fear or despair, but the strength to conquer them. So, with great trepidation, and real fear, I packed up fourteen months of papers and things to bring my children, and unsure until the very last minute, I made a run for it, with my French nephew to help me with ten suitcases and three dogs on the trip from Paris, where I have been for fourteen and a half months, back to the US.
People had told me that airports were empty, and planes less than half full, and travel was easier than I feared. (I feared most of all catching the dreaded virus on the way. After all those months in safety and seclusion in Paris, it seemed insanely stupid to catch it on the way home. But I couldn’t stay away from my children any longer. I felt that I was letting them down, and owed it to them to be brave, and as careful as possible and go to see them in California and New York. And the numbers had not been good recently. But when would they be? And how much longer could I wait?)
The reports I’d had weren’t entirely true. The airport wasn’t jammed but it was full, and busy with international travelers, leaving Paris for other countries. There are only two flights a week from Paris to San Francisco, but people are moving around. The airport was not deserted, although the flight was one third full. Equipped by one of my children, I had plastic covers to put in the security bins (a really good idea), which made me feel a little safer. I wore an N95 mask, which was too big so it floated around on my face, but I had been told it was the best. I brought a visor, but didn’t wear it, and used a seat cover, and disinfected my hands frequently. And once on the plane, I began to relax. The crew was attentive, and the air supposedly well filtered and pure. It was the same worry we have all had for more than a year: an invisible killer virus is lurking, but you can’t see it, and don’t know if you do the wrong thing, or stand next to the wrong person. A PCR Covid test was required for the trip.
It was a very long flight, one I never take. I prefer to break my trip to the West Coast with a stop in New York, which avoids jet lag. I was too tense on the flight to watch a movie or sleep, so I read, and talked to my nephew, and the eleven-hour flight went surprisingly fast, and we landed an hour early. And I had a strange sensation on arrival, that I was suddenly back in the US, had travelled halfway across the world, and was allegedly home, but it didn’t feel like it, everything felt strange and foreign and unfamiliar. And I kept reminding myself that I had made the trip to see my kids, which made any degree of fear worthwhile. I had a reason, a purpose, and a need of my own, to see the children I had missed so much. We had never been apart for more than a few weeks in their entire lives, and I hadn’t seen them in more than a year. Unimaginable, and yet the time had flown. There were some hard, lonely times, but always a sense that we were doing the right thing, staying where I was. it was a sacrifice for them and for me, and it hadn’t all been painful. There had been some wonderful moments in France in the year, and often a sense of peace, and some lovely moments with friends. Some of my friendships had deepened, others had faded away when friends disappointed me, which happens to us all.There were frightened times, and peaceful times. But my family is a vital part of my life, and was always missing. It took enormous strength and faith to be away from them for so long.
I made my way through immigration and customs, and trumpets didn’t go off. A brass band didn’t play. No one congratulated me for coming home. And we drove into the city, and got home. San Francisco looked bright and shiny, the sun was shining, people had told me the city looked grim, but I saw no sign of it on the way. And at last, I was home. I have led a divided life for a long time, as a child between France and the US, and again as an adult once my children grew up. For the past 16 years, my life, and my year, and my friendships and my heart have once again been divided between France and the US, with homes in both places, but the ‘mother house’, the family house my children grew up in, and my children, are all in the United States, so like a homing pigeon I always come back, even though eventually I fly back to France again. But my return to the US is always sure, my kids are here. My worst fear for years, or one of them, is that there would be a war, and I would be separated from my children particularly if I had a different nationality from them—-which is exactly what happened in Covid. It exploded while I was in France, rapidly became too dangerous to come back, and my kids were in the US. They were incredibly brave and tolerant and supportive of my remaining safe there, in fact frequently they advised me not to come back yet, and to wait, so I did. But a year? How could that be?
I walked through my front door and nothing had changed, the house looked the same. it was as though I had never left, and yet I had, and we had been separated for a year. We had faced hard times alone, holidays and important life moments. But we had survived, no one had died. We had made it. Four of my children were in San Francisco, the others in other cities, and I will visit them soon. The elderly dogs I had left in San Francisco, too old to travel, had died during the year, and the house seemed empty without them. But I felt as though I had been either thrown back a year, or air lifted ahead. It was like flying through space. And within hours I saw the children I had missed so much—cautiously, we kept our distance, wore masks, some of them are vaccinated, some not, and I’m not, due to severe allergies that make it questionable, so even more caution and wisdom is required. We didn’t hug, but we glowed with joy and relief when we saw each other, and got as close as we dared. I had another Covid test several days later, which was negative. They had tests before they saw me. The distance of six feet didn’t matter, we had been six thousand miles apart for more than fourteen months, and we had survived it, we had come through it, Love had fueled us and kept us going, and there were many dark hours in the year apart, but bright ones too. They had grown more independent, and I had to fill my time without them, although I had been surrounded by my children since I was nineteen. It was a learning experience, and an act of faith for us all. And somehow, I’m not even sure how, we did it. I don’t think we will ever be as affected by being apart for a while. We did it, and it was hard at times. Christmas alone, without them was the hardest of all for me. But even that painful memory faded once I saw them in front of me.
I felt like a ghost in my own life for a while. I had come back, and their lives had gone on without me, and my life had moved forward too. I was eternally grateful to the people, a precious few, who had gotten me through it. Strong bonds had formed during the pandemic, like in wartime, which will stay with us forever and last, never to be forgotten.
For several days, I woke up in the morning, or at night, unsure where I was. Paris or the States? Where was I? Which country? Which home? And then I remembered.
So often I was overwhelmed with fear during that year, that I would die and never see them again, or that something would happen to them. Miraculously, nothing terrible did, and we came through it unscathed. Our worst fears never happened, and we are together again. And I will see the others soon. I will always remember that time apart, and be grateful for the love that carried us through, along with the people we love and who love us, who helped us along the way. it was a remarkable journey, and living proof of what I believe, as trite as it sounds, that Love conquers all, distance and fear and darkness and anxiety, and no matter how many miles we are away from our loved ones, we can never really be separated from those we love. Love truly does conquer all, and transforms us on the way. And no matter how difficult or frightening the experience, there are blessings in every situation that carry us through. And wherever we find ourselves, we are where we are meant to be. I am grateful for every moment of the last fourteen months, and to be with my children again. Home is wherever we are, with the people we love. And I am so grateful for the people who gave me comfort, support and love for the past fourteen months. It has been a blessing and a miracle, and even though so hard at times, an incredible gift to be together again.
Have a great week!