In my late stochastic reading, I found Gilead. Pulitzer Prize for fiction, 2005. Marilynne Robinson. A congenial read.
Reverend John Ames bequeathed a letter to his son before dying. Among the many memories and reflections he left behind, I came across a paragraph that may come in handy to a currently inquisitive audience. It goes like this:
« One sermon is not up there, one I actually burned the night before I had meant to preach it. People don’t talk much now about the Spanish influenza, but that was a terrible thing, and it struck just at the time of the Great War, just when we were getting involved in it. It killed the soldiers by the thousands, healthy men in the prime of life, and then it spread into the rest of the population. It was like a war, it really was. One funeral after another, right here in Iowa. We lost so many of the young people. And we got off pretty lightly. People came to church wearing masks, if they came at all. They’d sit as far from each other as they could. There was talk that the Germans had caused it with some sort of secret weapon, and I think people wanted to believe that, because it saved them from reflecting on what other meaning it might have. »
It is truly incredible to reflect on the fact that there truly is nothing new under the sun. It is an amazing thing to consider.
The pandemonium disappeared more or less. But is there life after The Virus?
I would always think this way. I still do. Is there life after highschool? Is there life after college? Is there life after a bodacious Erasmus mission? Of course these questions are candidly maudlin. (It is imperative for the understanding of this idea to have knowledge of the word maudlin. If one does not, I suggest one looks it up as it describes exactly what I’m trying to convey).
If this time that we had to spare at home doesn’t impact us in any way then it was a waste of time. We remain benighted.
I spoke to several people; some of them enjoy being alone in the quarantine, some dread it. Some prefer the company of family and/or friends and/or roommates, some do not.
I am a European volunteer. I live alone at the moment. It’s been 6 weeks since it all started. Confined at home, in a foreign country. I got three months of volunteering left. I don’t know what’s gonna happen next but I do know this Erasmus+ mission endowed me with the best cultural memories I’ll ever get to experience. So being stuck in the house made me reflect on this exceptional year that I lived. I travelled a lot and it’s all because of the EVS I’m doing. I realized. Therefore I won’t remain benighted.
For me it had a serendipitous start. I don’t know if I’ve ever shared this story with the public. In my second year of university I did an internship at the French Institute of Cluj-Napoca. It was 2017. There was this young woman I would always see at the Institute’s headquarters. Tall, blonde, feminine, always smiling, always travelling with her bike. I had never personally exchanged words with her, but each time I heard her speak, she carried her conversations in French. Evidently, I thought she was indeed French.
In the fall of 2017 or spring of 2018 (I don’t remember exactly but I know it was still quite cold outside) we were at this exhibition celebrating French-speaking women, or polyglot women or something like that. There were photos of women everywhere. We were at some restaurant/gallery/hall that one could rent for « elegant services ». The Institute organized all this and I was part of it. People were having wine and enjoying the food and I saw this young woman, this familiar face. I approached her near the table of food while she was deciding what to degust. I don’t remember what I told her or asked her but I remember I did it either in French either in English. She smiled, revealed that she was Romanian and then we hit it off. We started talking and she told me she spent one year in France, in Lille, right after she finished university. At the time she was pursuing a Master in Cluj. I was mesmerized. It was the first time I had heard about Erasmus+ volunteering programs.
I still remember that day as the day that changed the whole course of my life. This angel sent to me by God. I wouldn’t be here now in France if it wasn’t for her. This was 2 or 3 years ago and as I went on with my life back then, finishing college, working abroad during summers, having spent a semester abroad, I never forgot the idea of European Volunteering Service. This grand opportunity that I hadn’t heard of before.
In the summer of 2019 as I was finishing my studies I thought I ought to stay and do a MA at my university. It didn’t really attract me but it was familiar and I like familiar. I would have stayed in Cluj, kept my routine more or less, kept my acquaintances, visited my family and friends regularly. Frankly, I didn’t really have any idea what to do.
In July while we were taking care of our last assignments for uni, I remember me and my roommate were in a bus going to the city center and I remember looking out the window as the bus was pulling over in a station. We were both quite confused and I remember the idea popping up in my head. What if I don’t stay? What if I go to France? It seemed like such an impossible scheme that I think I giggled. And then I remembered the girl. The young woman. What she told me. What she experienced. How that year changed her life in many ways. And so I decided I should seriously consider it.
I went to my hometown the same day (if not the same day, the next), still not knowing exactly what to do. The train takes 4 hours from Cluj to Baia Mare and 4 hours I remember I read, I reflected and I prayed. By the time I got home I told my parents I’m going to France.
I dote on this experience.
What I have found is this. The life I lived before was so small. The world I lived in before was so small. So so small.
–photos– courtesy of author