I’m grateful to Toulouse.

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I would have called this post “Toulouse, My Way”, except that I do have a sensitive corny radar. ūüôā I have been living in Toulouse for a few months now, and am about to leave it for an English speaking reprieve and to the welcoming arms of my best friend in Europe and my¬†darling cousins and goddaughter.

This is¬†the prettiest city I have ever lived in, and I’ve lived in a few in my not-very-long life. I can never “get used” to this place– each time I set out, I feel as though I see new things in these old, cobblestone streets. I look up and it’s all pastel wooden-slatted shutters and Juliet balconies skirting the windows, all painted curly wrought-iron; every giant heavy wooden double-door on the street on which I live opens into a courtyard, some glorious and big and primly-trimmed, some small, walls of disparate buildings cobbled untidily together, but warm, friendly, some that look like tiny micro-cities of building facades and stairways, carved stone bannisters… Narrow streets of terracotta and orange and warm colours, brick and old, old wooden beams.

And the people? Warm, friendly, kind… earthy, grounded. The guy at the ice cream shop knows my favourite flavour; the lady at the patisserie around the corner knows my name (and my favourite pastry in the whole world), the owner of the tea shop (with the wifi) in which I do my work some days remarks on how my French has improved, and speaks to me only in French. In the other tea shop around the corner (how can one not love a city that loves its tea?), I met one of my best friends in Toulouse. Once, when I was on the airport shuttle coming home, and struggled with my wheelie bag, a lady immediately came to my aid. When I thanked her profusely, she replied, in French, a little confused, “but… of course.” As someone who treasures kindness deeply, and who has lived mainly in large cities, I¬†have been touched by how unassuming the Toulousains are.

I chose this city completely at random. It was by¬†a process of elimination, and I knew nothing about this place except that it was called “the pink city”, because of the stone that the old buildings are made of. When the setting sun strikes the walls in some quartiers/suburbs, they bathe their surrounds in a warm pinkness. I love it.

This place brought me back to life. And I mean, from the dead. Shatter your own heart and life and you never fear death again, but the process to come back from that in-between zombie world of numbness, depression and paralysis can be formidable. And I don’t mean in the French meaning of the word. Toulouse was a catalyst, a balm, a risk, a hope, a break from life…. and the unlikeliest place on earth that I finally¬†pursued my childhood dream of being French-speaking (ok, sort of. I suppose I officially have “working knowledge” now). But, most of all, Toulouse¬†reminded me that there is goodness in people that will shine through when you choose to see¬†it.

Toulouse, mon amour, je vais revenir. ūüôā

I’m grateful for random acts of kindness.

I’m pretty sure I’ve already done an entry on random acts of kindness, but I really had to share this. I burst into tears at one point (you’ll see!), I was so moved.

I know I’ve let this blog lag a little, but it’s not because I haven’t been actively being grateful for all the little and big things in my life, because I really have been. It’s just that some days I’m grateful for things I’ve already written about.

When you are as naturally nomadic as I am, random acts of kindness mean so much more because very often, they’ll be carried out by¬†strangers, or by people I’d barely met, by people who haven’t been a part of my journey¬†for very long; and because in new places, life often starts out as a whole series of random acts of kindness. All of that makes these kindnesses so much more precious. Each time, they¬†reinforce my deep, practically delusional, optimistic instinct¬†to believe in the best in people, not just because it gives people the chance to show you their best selves, but also because it makes my own world a much more hopeful one, filled with possibility, connection, love and new beginnings.

I’m grateful for my path.

I love being at this point in life.

It’s when you have enough strength to bear your sensitivity, to wear your personality, to choose your feelings and responses, to walk away from situations that do not suit you, to say “no”, to say “yes”, to say “if you don’t like me, you can leave”.

It’s when you have enough exposure to visit a new city and walk confidently, to start a new job and walk tall.

It’s when you feel so peaceable and whole, you no longer have the craving to shop and buy new things to fill a hole, or to escape into a television series.

It’s when you are so good at enjoying your own company that you can love your friends and family much better because you no longer need them to tell you who you are and what you’re worth.

It’s when you are experienced enough to make a decision that is good for YOU without needing everyone else to approve it, or feeling like you must justify it.

It’s when you are solid enough to look disapproval, judgement and rejection in the face and hold on to everything, giving away none of your sense of self-worth.

It’s when you are secure and stable enough to see someone clearly and love them anyway.

It does not make you invincible. It does not stop the tears. It does not give you any more control over what happens to you in life. But it gives you a moment of reprieve; a moment of mercy, kindness, grace.

This was earned. That’s why it’s precious. And I’m grateful I was given this journey, this path, and no other.

I’m grateful for friendly people.

I’m grateful for naturally warm and friendly people. I know that in many big cities, sadly, there can often develop a personal space-preserving, blank-wall defensive mechanism. For example, sullen commuters barely tolerating each other’s presence in a cramped and crowded underground train will simply radiate hostility, tiredness and grumpiness. Approaching someone for help can trigger an immediately suspicious or weary look. And smiling at people less and less often evokes requited behaviour. It’s sad. It’s tiring and draining for all concerned. So, in any big or new city, whenever I meet people who are naturally, spontaneously friendly, warm and helpful– that is, people like the kind of person I hope I am when I’m in a pleasant mood and am not exhausted or upset– I just feel so grateful that they still exist, that they dare to be vulnerable and show their true natures, that they haven’t wrapped themselves in a tempered-glass wall. That they still value connection and are willing to take a chance on strangers, still believing in the best of people.

I’m grateful for the people who are still brave enough to be friendly in a hostile world.