Bernadette Peters was the first one who introduced me to the phrase “joie de vivre”. I was 14 years old and had no idea what it meant. But she sang those words to me in such a sweet melody that they just stuck in my memory:
“Welcome, my friends, to Paris. Here, have a flower on me. Forget where you’re from. You’re in France! Children, come! I’ll show you that French joie de vivre!”
–Paris Holds the Key to Your Heart, from the movie “Anastasia”
I have yet to hear this phrase actually spoken by a French person here, and I didn’t choose it as a topic because it’s French. No, it’s more like that it chose me.
In my first week here in Annecy, I was walking to my evening cooking class. It started about an hour and a half after my afternoon French class and is only about 15 minutes away by foot. So I decided to take a stroll and get to know the area. I found myself sitting on a park bench in a little green space that ran alongside the canal.
It had rained all day and the fresh scent was still heavy in the air. I watched the residents go about their afternoon rituals- nannies with the kids walking from school, many joggers, parents and strollers. Not all that different than sitting in Riverside Park in NYC.
The sun was beginning to set– the golden hour– my favorite time of day. From the effects of the rain and the sun, I was amazed at the reflections and shapes the whole setting created, so I snagged this photo (above).
It was in that moment of pause and awe that “joie de vivre” was whispered in my ear and electrified my skin. I stopped and savored the words before trying to interpret why they were even said at all.
Joy of life. Yes, that is exactly what I experienced. It was certainly not the first or last time, but different in that I couldn’t just chalk it up to my setting like a “New York moment.” It was more than that.
The pleasure of this phrase comes from its grand and encompassing nature which is, at the same time, minute, detailed, specific. I have noticed that it is in those still, small instances where I can feel the energy of life of everything around me, in me, through me– all at once, brief and intense.
It is those specific moments that make me stop, let me breathe, and then remind me of where I am, who I am, and now, the fact that I am choosing to be where and who I am.
There is a freedom that comes from making a choice based on who you really are (I can get theological here if you’d like) and not apologizing for it. It’s in that freedom that brings such contentment, peace, and yes of course, joy.