Europe by train: day 9. Paris, France to Brussels, Belgium.
Yesterday was our last day in Paris. The highlight was meeting Thomas, an exchange student that lived some years ago in the small town where Brian’s extended family lives. We connected over Facebook and met him for lunch at a restaurant in the Latin Quarter.
Thomas is a traveler and we are travelers so we talked about where we’ve been and where we love the most. We all shared a common adoration of Nepal. Thomas has volunteered there and Brian and I have trekked there. Over lunch we talked fondly of the kind Nepalese people who offered us food and tea and opened up their homes to us.
When lunch was over Thomas paid the bill. We tried to stop him but he was at the register before we knew it. When I attempted to hand him money he said, “No, you are guests in my city.” I continued to protest and Thomas said, “If the people of Nepal can be so kind and welcoming why can’t I?”
Walking away from lunch, Brian and I began talking about all of the kindness we have been shown by complete strangers over this year and a half of traveling. Before we left we had genuine concerns about our safety. You turn on the television or open the paper and you’d think that humans only do despicable things. But we’ve been out here for a long time now and are regularly overwhelmed by the goodness of others, whether in Paris or Santiago or Nepal or Ecuador or India.
Speaking of, we have money to give away. In fact, I recently received an email from an amazing woman who read about the best gift we’ve ever been given and asked if she and her husband could donate to the Yellow Envelope Fund. Brian and I couldn’t think of a reason why not, so now we have even more money to give away.
There are a lot of people begging for money in Paris. I suppose it’s no different than anywhere else. It’s a really hard thing to swallow when you think about it. I mean, these people need something and I have it, yet when they ask me for it I say no.
I started thinking about it yesterday afternoon as we walked by a woman, middle-aged, who’d been propped against the same street lamp the whole time we’d been in Paris. Across the sidewalk from her was a makeshift bed in an unused doorway. I guess that was her home.
I was sympathizing a bit because I’d been thinking earlier about how there are all these apartments in Paris, many with empty beds, and yet Brian and I spent hours hunting down a place to sleep that we could afford. Then I thought about how terrible it must be to be the woman by the street lamp, knowing that most of the people walking by had empty rooms and cupboards full of food but they wouldn’t share any of it with you.
So Brian and I decided that today we would just say yes to whatever anyone asked of us. If they asked for money we would give it. If they asked for shoes or a blanket or a sandwich we would give it. As long as we could afford it we would give it. Brian was not a fan of this idea because he hates begging, so I sort of steamrolled him into it.
We had five trains to catch today. We boarded our first train around 9:30 a.m. Soon after a man got on, a young guy with a goatee and a black leather coat. To be honest he didn’t really look like he needed money. Nonetheless, he asked Brian for some change. Brian pointed to me because I had the Yellow Envelope money in my pocket. I handed the man 10 euro. He said thank you. I said you’re welcome. Then he turned his attention back to Brian, put his money cup in Brian’s face and jingled it, asking for more. It was an asshole move, really, considering I’d just given him 10 euro.
Brian turned red with anger. I thought he might punch the guy or at least knock the cup out of his hand. But Brian isn’t the type to do that. It reminded me of a time once in Portland when a homeless guy asked us for food. We’d popped into a deli and bought him a sandwich. But then when we gave it to him and he’d said, “It better be vegan.” Brian turned red with anger then too.
The guy on the train walked away and Brian shot me a look. But before he could say anything I said, “Hey, listen, who are we to judge? It’s not about us. It’s not even our money.”
Life is weird— especially when you travel for a living. You carry your body, which carries your soul, through different cities in different countries in different cultures all over the world. It’s hard. It’s much more difficult than you would believe. But the blessing of it is that you get an opportunity to cross paths with so many different people.
I saw this print once by Storypeople and it said, “One day, I decided to help wherever I could, and it was almost like magic because I was exactly what the world needed wherever I went.”
In my best moments, I try to think of our traveling life this way. I try to believe that everyone in front of us is there because they’re supposed to be and not just because they are.
When you do it right, life can be about making things better just by the blessing of your presence. Kind of like how the people of Nepal affected Thomas. And then Thomas affected us. And maybe we got to do the same thing for the guy in the leather coat. Maybe not. We’ll never know for sure. But knowing is not the point.
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