For the second time since yesterday (Easter), I found myself in a pew of Basilique Saint Sernin here in Toulouse. The ”largest religious Roman ediface” in all of France, it drew me into its center as a mother would draw her child to her breast for nourishment. As cavernous and grand, soaring and open a place as it is, there was something intimate about it, something personal and grounding. Something comforting and inspiring.
At first I was a simple tourist. Gawking at the stained glass, the enormity of the space, the height of the vaulted ceilings, the brilliance of the altar, and the awesomeness of its age – built in the 13th century! So I sat down in a pew to take it all in. After only a few minutes
there was a breathy sound, and an echo, and then a note. And, tout d’un coup, I was engulfed in sound, the beautiful sound of the organ at full tilt! The organist was really there…this was not a recording…because he would pause, re-play a phrase, and then continue. He must have been practicing, or else just having a marvelous time! And I was grateful in the listening. At the end of one piece, there would be a long silence, and then it would start up again – a different piece, a different rhythm, a different pace. All of it washing over me, filling me, embracing me and reaching into my core. This went on for almost 2 hours! Tears began to roll down my face and continued during most of the time I sat there. Tears of joy, sorrow, gratefulness, blessedness, disbelief, affirmation, confirmation. Joy of just being here in my favorite country. Gratefulness to all of who and what conspired to bring me here – my parents who sent me, their 19 year old first born, to live with a French family for a whole summer because they knew it would be an experience of a lifetime; the years of French class with wonderful native French speakers who inspired in me the love of the French language; Facebook which created a format through which I could reconnect with my French family after 40 years. Sorrow at the passing 1 week ago of a good friend’s son tragically and suddenly; for the death from cancer 3 years ago of one of my French “sisters.” And finally, disbelief banished by the many affirmations over the past 2 years that my decision to retire and move to France was and is the right one. The upwelling of emotion overtook me, and my tears cleansed me.
Oh, sweet song of St. Sernin, thank you for feeding me with your music and filling me with your spirit. I will be leaving this beautiful city, and a piece of you will live inside of me forever.