We are simple people. For us, fulfillment comes from hammering a piece of iron into a useful shape; from plowing the black soil for the new crop; from kneading the dough for the bread we all need... [+]
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I don't know who started this absurd Christmas ritual, but it's become as essential to family get-togethers as pecan pie or honey-baked ham. As soon as the food is served and we're all seated around the table, the game begins. Each guest at the table must spin an extraordinary tale about his or her life. The story can be made-up or completely true, just as long as it's ridiculous. When the person is finished recounting the details of the tale, the others at the table must guess whether he or she was telling the truth. The goal is not only to tell a tale that's entertaining and imaginative, but also to fool the rest of the family. The person with the best narrative is awarded a year of bragging rights and a magical prize.
Every year, I dread the moment my turn comes. The rest of the family sees me as the eternal loser, the kid at the table who not only has the most dull and average life, but also has no creative spark or imagination. The mousy cousin who lives her life in her head rather than experiencing the fullness life has to offer. Being incapable of lying (at least without turning bright red), my annual tale usually consisted of finding five cents in the street or mustering the courage to take a trip outside of Paris. My stale anecdotes fell flat in comparison to Uncle Henry's wild Polar expeditions that always involved at least one animal that no one had ever heard of, or my cousin Emma's flashy celebrity run-ins. But, when it was my turn at this year's Christmas dinner, I took a larger breath of air. I finally had a story to tell that would rival Henry and Emma's serendipitous adventures. And so I began speaking, slowly at first, in front of 10 skeptical pairs of eyes.
"One Saturday morning, which began like any other, I heard the slam of the mailbox signifying the mailman's daily visit. Reluctantly, I set down my book and walked downstairs. From the moment I set foot outside, the unfriendly lady next door scowled at me. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, confused as always by her rudeness. After retrieving the mail, I walked back up the driveway, sifting through the bills and ads before a letter caught my attention. I first noticed the carefully-shaped, unusual handwriting, then I read the name of the recipient. The woman next door. Yes—the very same. As you know, I'm deeply honest and good-hearted, which I realize to some of you means "astonishingly naïve." Don't deny it, Emma, I'm looking at you. Anyway, here I was, at the front door with a letter for my next door neighbor, yet I felt no desire to give it to her. Instead, I felt five years of pent-up frustration at her persistent meanness bubble up, and then that was followed by intense curiosity. Before I could talk myself out of it, I carefully unsealed the envelope, opened up the letter, and began to read:
Please allow me to address you this way even though you do not know me. A fact I am hopeful that this letter will change. You see, I am a hopeless romantic. I believe I might have belonged more in the days of handwritten letters sealed with candle wax. I want to approach life with vigor and curiosity and belief in everyday magic. But, to be honest with you, life hasn't been magical in one particular way. Allow me to explain: I want to find love, but it just hasn't happened. I don't want to find someone on a dating app, or at a bar. I want to fall in love with the person's soul, you see. I want to know their thoughts, musings, hopes and dreams, and have a real connection. I was speaking about all of this to my friends, and they thought of an outrageous game. They decided that they would find a person they believe I might like, then after some investigative work, they would find her address for me (I hope you are not frightened by this). After I have this information, I was to send you a letter, without ever having met or seen you. For a reason that I am unaware of, they have chosen you. Anyway, if you're still reading, that's a very good sign. Instead of rambling about who I am or what I do, I thought I would just mention some of my simple joys in life: the warm summer breeze, devouring the last pages of a good book, the first blossoms that peak out of the soft earth, the intimacy of prolonged eye contact with a stranger, alliterations, unplanned perfect days, leaves crunching under my feet in the fall, particularly passionate people. And who knows, maybe you…. If I have struck your curiosity, please meet me tonight at 9 PM on the Pont des Arts. Every night, I will wait for you there.
A new friend…perhaps
I was trembling. That night, I excitedly headed for the Pont des Arts. The cold Paris air felt so full of electricity and unfettered possibility. By the light of a streetlamp, on the almost deserted bridge, I saw a silhouette step forward and then turn toward me. I approached, hypnotized. And then…but Sam can tell it better than I can," I said, turning toward the front door.
Ten pairs of eyes moved with mine. Like them, I held my breath. My eyes stayed glued on the door. One second. Ten. One minute. But the door did not open. The room was silent. Then applause burst out, uncertain at first, then resounding.
After the dinner was over, I walked quickly down the driveway and out of earshot. When I was sure that my family would no longer be able to hear me, I let out a joyful shriek. I began walking slower, watching my boots crunch the soft snow and replaying the night's events in my mind. My giant teddy bear (this year's prize) dangled from my left arm. My half-lie had astonished them all. They believed every word! The best part was telling them how the story actually happened. It was me who wrote the letter (essentially the same one I described.) Rather than writing the letter with the motivation to find love, I wrote it because I was overcome with a desire to live, to take chances, to let go of the voices telling me my life needs to look a certain way. And also because, in a government office, I heard the most beautiful, enchanting male voice give his name and address to an official. I never saw his face, but I couldn't stop thinking about him. His voice calm and measured, deep and soulful. I heard it in my head at night. Sam Lambert. 145 Rue Normandie. Like honey. I thought of my waiting on the Pont Des Arts, a terrifying shape barely illuminated by the neon lights. I thought about how Sam's footsteps had sounded as he'd walked up. Measured, calm. I thought of the way his hand intertwined with mine as we looked over across the sparkling lights of the city. I was at once struck with how wonderfully romantic and deliciously unpredictable life can be when you understand your imagination to be a priceless power and that without this obscure Christmas ritual, I never would have realized this. Finally, I thought of the voice and the hand, both irresistible, that were waiting for me now, and from now on at the Pont Des Arts, that would prevent me from hearing the racket of my mailbox on Saturday mornings. And the racket of reality.
Translated by Kate Deimling