When we moved back to the U.S., especially the rural U.S., I expected we’d have to sacrifice the stimulation of constant exposure to other languages and cultures. No place has it all, my husband and I learned long ago. Everywhere you live, you’re gaining something and missing something else. I felt confident in our move, but realistic as well. I knew what I’d be giving up, and I felt–still feel–sad sometimes.
The movie Sliding Doors imagines two possible lives unfolding for its main character based on whether or not she steps through a door at a certain time. Following this tiny action (or inaction), two plots play out alongside one another on the screen. Since I’ve lived in so many places, it’s hard not to picture our lives like that– going in one direction or another, moved by choices large or small. One simple decision, for example, and our son would have been going to German school this year. We would have been in the same small apartment, pulling our dog for short walks on his leash down city streets, but instead my son speaks English with his new preschool friends and our dog chases deer in the forest behind our house in the country.
Sometimes it seems random. But I also believe that our choices, when made in good faith, can lead us in exciting directions we couldn’t have anticipated. For example, from our tiny town in northern Vermont it takes just 15 minutes to reach Québec. I had no idea when I moved here that I’d be hearing French chatter in the grocery stores or crossing the border to pick apples at the nearest orchard.
Today’s chilly rain had us packing the car for a little trip to Magog, a town at the north end of Lake Memphremagog. Our town sits on the lake’s southern tip, where it gathers in a wide bay before stretching up into Canada.
Admittedly, it’s exciting to hop in the car and drive a short ways to a world of boulangeries and pâtisseries and people saying Bonjour. I thought I left that behind when I left Europe. Yet it appears I really might have been given the best of two worlds.
I’ve studied three languages in my lifetime, and none of them have been French. Is that random? A stroke of bad luck? Or could it just mean that I’ve been given the opportunity to enrich my life with a fourth language to study and the chance to embrace two cultures at once after all? I pick the latter.