Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I'll Always Have Paris

May 1976. It was my first time out of the United States besides the trip my family took to Quebec when I was 10. I was on a concert tour of Europe with the Hendricks Chapel Choir of Syracuse University. Just think, 64 college students packed on a double-decker tour bus, going from Bremen to Amsterdam, to Brussels, to Paris, to Strasbourg, to Florence, to…well, you get the drift.

64 of us traveling across Europe to celebrate America’s Bicentennial, with a concert program of both European and American music.

And four days in Paris.

Yes, four days in Paris. I could tell you stories about paying a Parisian street musician with our leftover Danish money. I could tell you about the silly tourists we saw trying to take pictures of the Eiffel Tower at night with a flash camera. I could tell you about how we were scheduled to sing at Notre Dame de Paris, but had our concert cancelled at the last minute, so our director, wanting to be able to say that his choir sang at Notre Dame, signed us all up for a tour of the place, and then had us “spontaneously” start singing. I could tell you those stories and even more, but that’s not the story I want to tell. It’s not the story I need to tell.

The story I want to tell is of a bass in the choir who was a nice enough guy, who was a friendly enough guy, and who seemed to get along well enough with everyone in the choir, but who wasn’t really convinced that anyone liked him enough to invite him to go along with them as they made their plans for sightseeing during their downtime from performing. To be sure, he would be welcome to go along with just about anyone, but he didn’t want to feel like he was just tagging along. He wanted to be invited. He was a little insecure about his social position not just in the choir, but in the world, and his personal script was based on the idea that he was tolerated, but not necessarily really liked.

If you're guessing that this person was me, then you're right.

So one day in Paris, while everyone else was making plans to go see this, that, or the other, I decided that rather than jumping in to join a group that was doing something I thought was interesting, I'd just sit in my hotel room, waiting to be invited by someone.

I don’t recall how many games of solitaire I played that day, after everyone left without me, but the fact that no one came along to ask me to join them played right in to my personal script about not really being wanted, and as a result, I sat around for the rest of the day feeling pretty sorry for myself.

Later on, when everyone came back to the hotel for dinner, I told my friend Sandra about his experience, and she let me have it with both barrels, saying:
You’ve got a lot of nerve feeling sorry for yourself! If you want to do something with people, if you want to go somewhere with people, you have to let them know. You have to join up. If no one asked you to do anything with them, it’s because they figured you already had plans with some other group, or were happy doing what you were doing. But don’t you dare try to blame us for the fact that you sat alone in your room all day while the rest of us were enjoying ourselves!
Your time in Paris, or anywhere else on this tour, is what you make of it. 
Wow. That wasn't what I was expecting, but she was right, and when a group made plans to take a boat ride on the Seine that evening, I made sure to go along with them. In fact, for the rest of the tour, I made sure that I took the initiative to join groups that looked like they were doing something interesting.

As a result, to this day, I have very little patience with people who sit around moping, waiting for someone else to make them happy, rather than getting up off their butts and making their own happiness.

I learned a great lesson from Sandra. It was a lesson I’ll never forget, and that I also try to teach my students.

And in that way, I’ll always have Paris.

1 comment:

  1. There is a great deal of truth here. But, unfortunately, like so many things involving Humans, it is not absolute. I seem to recall a situation of some of these same people not wanting a particular young man (who may later, if I recall correctly, have been in involved in the "rancid Crisco" question) to come along on some, and subterfuge being carried out to prevent it...

    It's true that often we have the choice of having a good time or not. It is not true that inviting yourself along or assuming that other people want you will always work. And, sadly, the people who are least wanted are often least wanted not because they are bad people, but because they are socially clueless about things like whether they are wanted or not...