And now we come to the end. Even though I still have a month left in Toulouse, this will be my last article. Technically, I should not be thinking about the end of my semester abroad already, but I just did the math and I realized I only have 34 days left in France. THIRTY-FOUR. How did this happen? I thought I was paying attention, I thought that maybe if I kept watching the pot it would never boil. But I, as I so often am, was wrong. I’d have more success trying to stop a runaway train with a heroic posture and the weight of my convictions. And I know that. The unbelievable passage of time is nothing revolutionary—clichés never are—but I never cease to be amazed by the impossible breadth and depth of my ignorance of such banal facts. Maybe it’s because it’s raining, or that I’ve been listening to Adele for the past hour and a half (“I Found a Boy” is currently breaking my heart), but I feel like I simultaneously understand so much about these past four months and absolutely nothing at all. In fact, I’m reasonably sure that twenty years from now I’ll still be discovering new things about this experience. I could always be hit with a bolt of enlightenment when I wake up tomorrow—Instant Nirvana—but I doubt it. In trying to summarize this semester, I’ve rummaged around my magic hat of literary allusions for a connection (and you thought diamonds were a girl’s best friend), and this is what I’ve pulled out: Salman Rushdie and “The Satanic Verses.” Reading Rushdie is, to put it mildly, an experience. I tried in French and thought I had been suddenly struck by a particularly virulent and rare disease that instantly obliterates all memory of Romance languages. Then I tried again in English and realized maybe it was him, not me. I have never been so frustrated and so astounded at the same time and in the same sentence. Granted, this is what I’ve experienced after only three chapters of “The Satanic Verses,” but in spite of my grumbling, it’s true that he had me from the very first line: “ ‘To be born again,’ sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, ‘first you have to die.’” Simple, right? Perhaps even a little obvious. But in this article about realizing what has been right under my nose all along, it is worth being said, even repeated. To be born again, first you have to die.
It’s not a question of facilitation or amelioration: logically, rebirth only occurs after the death of something. The idea is not uncommon; take Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example, in “Love in the Time of Cholera”: “He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” Yet therein lies the tricky part—what dies in this continual process of self-resurrection? And then there’s the fact that it’s not always an even trade, an eye for an eye, a birth for a death—the conservation of matter does not apply. I will never be able to measure just how much has been lost and gained in this cycle of change; taking stock at this point means the only thing that I know for certain is that I’ll be different when I leave France at the end of the semester. Maybe “birth” and “death,” as extreme as they are on the spectrum of life experiences, are much too strong to describe how I’ve changed. But then again, maybe they are not strong enough. The point is… I have no point. It will take a lot of time (maybe a few lifetimes even) to understand what has happened, to see all the ripples in the pond caused by these four months of skipping stones. Until I figure it all out though, I am grateful for Rushdie’s flash of insight. There are no endings or beginnings—it’s all an ever-turning wheel of death and birth, doing and undoing, and all I can do is enjoy the ride and accept the changes as they come.