My last trip to Paris – more than a decade ago – I found myself terrified of the café culture. I was completely alone with my inner demons and low self-image. I imagined the patrons seated outside, facing forward toward the street, to be looking at me with disdain. Watching to see if I would dare to enter. Sizing me up. Wondering if I had the gall to consider myself good enough to join them.
I remember one night being so hungry that I eventually had to muster the courage to eat dinner. I had memorized a phrase to tell the host – je suis seul (I am alone) – and he smiled and brought me to a table.
Last week, I was back in Paris and was amazed at how differently I perceived the patrons seated in front of cafés, facing the street. After more than three years of therapy, my self-esteem had improved. I saw the patrons as connected to their community and enjoying the street theater in front of them. It startled me to recognize that I had previously interpreted certain looks or postures as threatening or condescending. This time some of the expressions were exactly the same as years before, but harmless. People simply enjoyed watching the passerby. No negative meaning could fairly be assigned to any particular gaze or expression. I was viewing the world through a more accurate lens, one not clouded by an old, irrelevant pattern formed in childhood.
I happily joined them in the seats in front of a café. I ordered a drink and felt comfortable in the group. I marveled at my progress as measured by a return visit to Paris.