And so it came to pass that I found myself living in Chaville – a tiny town halfway between the centre of Paris and Versailles. My abode was as glamourous as it sounds when I divulge it was the French equivalent of a room at the YMCA. Single bed, sink, shelf, wardrobe. The communal showers and on-site restaurant did nothing to improve the perceived level of luxury.
However, the one significant advantage of the Foyer over a bijou apartment in the 9th was the other young people living there. Avoiding the other British students like the plague, I quickly made friends with my all-French neighbours. All garçons. One of whom had his own car – a dark grey Peugeot 205 – which came in very handy.
He and I forged a firm friendship. Mostly by accident. He had the wheels and more than his fair share of ideas. All the rest of us had to do was say “Yes!” when asked if we would like to join in. Far too often, the other guys were too busy, lazy, desperately trying to please their girlfriend and, therefore, passed up on many a trip.
It didn’t matter that it was a Sunday afternoon when the idea to drive down to the Loire Valley popped in to his head. The others thought it was mad. Too late in the day. Too far. The chateaux would all be closed. So the two of us went anyway. We had a wonderful time. I saw the town of Blois for the first time. And We made it to the Château of Chambord.
On another occasion we found ourselves picnicking in a field right opposite the Mont St. Michel, having already sought out a local supermarché for the essentials. Bliss. The whole afternoon was spent exploring the island, with its abbey, winding lanes, pretty little shops. The journey back to Paris was a hurried one to ensure we made it to the semi-final of the football World Cup which simply had to be watched on the big screen outside the Hôtel de Ville (and the win was celebrated in the traditional manner by walking to and then up the Champs Elysées, right to the Arc de Triomphe).
You see, I’d learnt that the negative was just noise. Unless there was a very real reason to say no, it was a yes. Always. The others never seemed to learn the lesson. They heard our gallivanting tales, often in disbelief. But they never said “yes” the next time…
Fast-forward a few years and I was reminded of the great value in the lesson. I was separated and we had a young daughter. It was fairly amicable. No nastiness between us. No power games to be played. We shared custody 50/50, much to many people’s surprise. Apparently it was more easily-accepted that I would retain the balance of power in terms of custody as the mother. Oh, and I ought to be in receipt of financial remuneration despite the parity of our situation. Of course, there were times when our set days would clash with other opportunities. And each time he asked me if I could change my schedule, I said yes. Where there was no tangible reason to say no, I said yes. If only more parents in similar situations could adopt the same perspective. It helped the three of us immeasurably. Now, 12 years on, all is hunky-dory. No ill-feeling. No awkwardness.
Hop ahead again to this year. Now twice the age I was in Paris. And the lesson rings true still. It is all too easy to forget the value of seizing the opportunities that are right in front of us. We are all guilty of being lazy. Taking the easy option. We lose our way. I did. I had. Then there’s an inescapable reminder. Someone close to me received a terminal cancer diagnosis. And you realise, this is no dress rehearsal. We get one go on this merry-go-round called life.
Those who care for the dying largely agree that regrets stem from those opportunities that passed by, not those that were taken. Let’s not be reckless. No sense running up a huge credit card bill you can’t pay off. And it isn’t about avoiding making plans for the future either. But let’s not overthink matters. It’s too easy to find a seemingly valid reason to stick within our comfort zones. Don’t.
Seize the day.