Editor’s Note: Today we have selected this story from Jon Fulk. There is still time for your travel story to be selected for feature on Prodigal Magazine. Visit our Travel Stories Blog Series page to submit your story!
I pulled out my cell phone and dialed a number beginning with an American prefix. I had no idea what it would cost, but even though I would see her in less than 24 hours, I had to hear her voice one more time before I went to sleep that night. Lying in the cool grass of the Champs de Mars, the field just below the Eiffel Tower, I felt like the only person in the City of Love without someone to cuddle up next to and drink wine with as the lights sparkled on the national symbol for all of the tourists.
The deep blues of the evening sky and the cool wind reminded me that I left my luggage, jacket included, in a locker in the Gare Montparnasse. After interrupting her afternoon meeting in the States with my call, I hung up the phone and casually walked to the nearest métro stop, taking time to help a couple tourists with directions. Talking to her briefly on the phone gave me a short reprieve from the isolation I felt that night, but it wasn’t going to be enough to get me through the events that followed.
I was an experienced traveler finishing up a month-long trip to France.
Over the years, I had learned to adapt. The problem is, when you start to depend on adaptability, it’s easy not to plan ahead. As I walked into the Gare Montparnasse and headed for the lockers, I saw a sign that I hadn’t noticed on my way in the first time. It said the lockers closed at 11 pm, not accessible until the next morning. I had an early flight the next morning, so I wasn’t going to be anywhere near Gare Montparnasse then. I quickly checked my watch.
“10:55 pm. Run! Run like the wind! Your return home to see Heather and the girls depends on it!” I shouted to myself, almost audibly. Out of breath, I burst into the locker area just in time. The workers half-smiled, knowing how lucky I was to get there before they left. None of us knew that my night was just beginning.
Luggage in hand, I now walked more quickly to the next train
–hoping to check into my airport hotel before midnight, but knowing that wasn’t going to happen. At the RER station, another surprise. The last train heading to the airport had just left. I am now forced to take another route, one that was under construction. In that moment, had I not spoken French, I would have been completely confused. I asked the guy beside me what to do. He told me there would be a bus at a certain station and that I would know what to do when I arrived. I wasn’t convinced.
I settled into my seat, still wondering if I was on the right train and if I would make it to the airport that night. And that is the exact moment when the feeling hit me. In all of my travels, I had never before felt such total isolation. Even after having been there for several weeks, I felt all of my foreign-ness rise to the surface. My mind started to race.
I thought about all of the horror stories I had heard about the French suburbs, about how that’s where all the “real crime” happens. At that moment, I was not only headed that direction, but I was facing the real possibility of spending the night there. Fear gripped me at my throat and made my heart beat faster. I checked my wallet — only a few Euros left. I didn’t think I would need cash again before leaving. My debit card wasn’t worth much more than the plastic it was made of at that moment, and I don’t carry credit cards, a decision I started to reconsider as I sat in the train.
As we stopped at each station, I noticed that the guns held by officers on the platform increased in size in proportion to our distance from the heart of the city. Some were carrying machine guns, others tear gas launchers. I knew I was heading into the area where riots ignite into flaming vehicles. I tried to calm my thoughts, telling myself I would be fine even though I couldn’t reach anyone on the phone in Normandy where my only contacts were. It was useless. I was a wreck. Finally, I turned to God.
“God, I’m scared,” I prayed silently.
”I feel ridiculous admitting this. I don’t know how I got myself into this situation, but I don’t know how to get out of it. I feel so alone. I don’t know what to ask for, but if you could at least put a cop on the train, I would feel safer.” It was a weak prayer. One of the weakest I’ve ever prayed.
As I sighed heavily, mentally releasing my feeble request to the heavens, someone brushed my shoulder, walking up the aisle from behind. It was a policeman! Never in my life had I been so happy to see a French cop, or any cop for that matter, than that very moment. Just as I started to realize that God actually answered my prayer instantly, I was brushed again as two more policemen came up the aisle, followed by a few more. I don’t remember the exact number, but by the time we reached my stop, there were almost ten policemen standing within arm’s length of me.
A couple years later, I told this story to a friend. He just laughed.
“Why is that story so funny?” I asked.
With a big smile he said, “I just love that God doesn’t know how to under-give.”