Je Regrette

The first time I went to Paris, it was only for two or three days, the tail-end of a business trip for Husband. I had been to England and Scotland, but this was my first visit to France and I was beyond excited. It was around 1997 and I remember patiently hunting for the perfect hotel, using my oh-so-slow dial-up internet connection.

I didn’t know a lot about the city, but I did my homework and found a perfect hotel–charming, great location and it didn’t break the bank. After riding the world’s smallest elevator to our room to drop off the bags, we went exploring. I knew the hotel was close to Notre Dame, but I didn’t realize that it was literally a two minute walk down one side street, across the broad avenue and then over the bridge onto the Ile de la Citie.

For me, Notre Dame was love at first sight. Even with the hordes of tourists and school children, even with the beggars and street vendors, it is a place that exudes holiness and grace and peace. To walk inside is to be awe-struck by the thought of all who have walked before you for the last eight centuries.

I’ve been back to Paris a half-dozen times since then, and the first thing I always do is walk down the side street, across the avenue and over the bridge to Notre Dame.

On one trip a few years ago I was with family making (for the most part) their first trip to Paris. I put them on a sight-seeing bus and took my knitting bag to Notre Dame. There is a garden to the back of the cathedral complete with park benches and perfect views of the famous flying buttresses.

As I sat there knitting, I noticed an attractive young couple on the next bench, also enjoying the view. All of a sudden, my peaceful reverie was broken by the young woman’s scream. It was a deathly sounding keen of pure misery and disbelief. It was a sound I’d never heard before.

She screamed over and over again–she had obviously received a devastating phone call. Her companion wrapped her in his arms and she continued to scream. He tried to comfort her in a language I didn’t understand.

People all around the garden were noticing and moving away. I didn’t know what to do.

I was so close that I was afraid they’d notice if I left and think that I wasn’t aware of their despair. I considered trying to help, but I was paralyzed.

I considered searching out a priest or nun. After all, this was the mother church and it was surely full of priests. I kept hoping one would walk by, but no one did.

In the end, I did nothing. I sat, with my eyes cast down, saying a prayer for her–hoping she would find the strength to manage.

I am sorry, though, that I didn’t do more.

Je regrette.

18 Comments

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18 responses to “Je Regrette

  1. You can’t regret that! It was a tragic, personal moment. The last thing she needed was a stranger trying to insert themselves into what was obviously a terrible moment. If she had been alone…maybe…but you did the right thing by giving her the privacy she needed.

  2. yes. leave them be. no regrets…. but if you are an empath (and i suspect you are, too), you feel it deeply…as i did reading your tale. there was nothing more you could do…

  3. Julie

    Reminded me of Saint-Exupery’s “Little Prince”: “I did not know what to say to him. I felt awkward and blundering. . .It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”

  4. little sister

    So then you must regret putting me on that tour bus 🙂

  5. You say you did nothing, yet you stayed beside her and prayed. I don’t think you could have done more.

  6. UB–I suspect you’re right. It was just so painful.
    Daisy–I’ve read up on empaths. Not sure I really fit. Partially, but not wholly.
    Julie–Would you believe I’ve never read that book. One of my great shortcomings.
    Sister–That tour bus was exactly where you needed to be.
    PG–Thank you. That’s a really nice thing to say.

  7. “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
    C’est la vie, Franklin. And you’re living yours afresh. 🙂

  8. I agree with everyone else, you did everything a stranger could that witnessed a tragic turn in someone’s life. Prayed.

    I agree that Notre Dame is beautiful. I love the thought of people thousands of years ago walking the same path I took.

  9. Niece Whit

    Tante,
    J’adore le tour bus!!!!!!

  10. I would like to knit so that I could go to my favourite places and sit but also do something in the presence of such magnificance. Then you wrote about the scream, and your reminded me of my own one time paralysis. PG is right. I think she usually is. xx

  11. There is no sound that cuts deeper then that of the keening, wailing variety. Not affected crying or carrying on but that completely recognizable, uncontrollable, almost primitive keen. I think that unless someone is in immediate peril, or alone, the only thing you can do is not stare and let them have their moment without interference. Has this sullied your Notre Dame for you?

  12. Jayne–You’re right, of course. I’m not sure what reminded me of this. It was several years ago.
    Jennifer–Thanks. It just didn’t seem like enough at the time.
    Whit-We’ll have to plan another trip someday.
    Ellie–I ready your story. Did you relive it everytime you were in that same spot? Knitting is easy and great because it’s so portable.
    Chris–I hope I never hear it again. I’ve been back to Notre Dame since then. It’s still a favorite place.

  13. I screamed in Paris too, but that was because I hated it there.

  14. That’s it, Rassles. We are broken up for GOOD!

  15. What a poignant thing to witness … and you did the right thing. It would have been different if she’d been alone, but she wasn’t; she had someone with her who knew her, and probably knew the situation, and knew her language.

  16. I relive(d) that moment occasionally, but not every time I’m on that spot because it is (was) such a part of my every day (every morning; sometimes afternoon too) life that there the familiarity of it made that moment lose its hold.

    Re: knitting, can be pricey no? A friend knit me a hat and I was shocked at the price of the yarn. Still, I imagine it’s a fantastic hobby. I mean, I like darning my socks!

  17. My only real regret about Paris is not going there every year. That and not living there.

  18. Ellie–If you knit like me then, yes–it’s expensive. After all, you don’t want cheap, plastic-feeling yarn around your neck, right?
    MLS–Thanks for stopping by. If I lived in London, I’d be in Paris as often as possible. I really want to take the Chunnel some day.

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