Dear readers, I know that a lot of you are Americans, and I’m guessing, if so, that I’m not the only person sitting here today feeling as though she’d just been punched in the gut. Even if you’re not American, you may well feel that way. If you’re like me, you simply can’t stand looking at news sites, and you’re probably having a hard time getting used to the new picture for the next four years.
So today’s post goes out to all of you: Everyone who’s scared, everyone who’s shocked, everyone who had hoped for better for their children (or others’ children). Today’s post is about a book which looks for better things, which takes someone sad and alone and helps him find his true place in the world.
This book is a large and tall book– if Mr. Collins wanted to read “one of the largest folios” in Mr. Bennet’s collection, he should have taken this one off the shelf. It’s certainly an improving book, but probably more beautiful and uplifting than his preferred Fordyce’s sermons.
This is how it begins: “He was a big lion. A young, curious and lonely lion. He was bored at home on the grasslands, and so one day he set off to find a job, love and a future.”
How many of us leave home to find “a job, love and a future”? I’m not a statistician, and I’m not here to give you precise numeric answers; there are lots of others out there who can do that better than I can. I’m going to stick to saying: “a lot.” I think that at some point in our lives, most of us stand up and say, “I have to find my path.” And what do we have to guide us? Ourselves. And, as the lion in our book finds, leaving the grasslands for Paris with no luggage and only himself to guide him can be a little scary.
Being a lion, he wondered, too, whether he would scare anyone, whether anyone would attack him. But no one did. The lion, who wanted to be noticed, roared for attention on the Metro, but no one paid any attention. He wandered Paris through rain and through sun, watching the sunlight bounce off of all of the glass windows. He visits the Seine, the lion reflected in its waters smiling back at him. He visits the Mona Lisa, who also smiles at him, and climbs the Eiffel Tower. And as he travels through the city, he begins to feel that Paris is now smiling at him from all its windows.
Finally, however, he comes to an empty plinth at a crossroads and, with a huge Roaaaaaaar! of joy, he leaps onto it and puts his paws together. And there, having finally found the place that suited him, he decides to stay.
There are a few aspects of this book, which I tried to hint at in my summary. First, there’s the travelogue. The book even opens with the lion holding a little map of Paris on the end-paper. As he goes from place to place, other visitors to Paris will enjoy seeing their favourite spots highlighted in Beatrice Alemagna’s beautiful illustrations.
But there’s a lot more. A lonely traveller from another country comes to Paris hoping to find a job, love, and a future. He searches everywhere, feeling lost and alone and ignored. He roars for attention. When he visits the Louvre, he finally feels glad to be noticed by the Mona Lisa, and, gradually, he goes on to win more attention from smiling Parisians. At last, he finds the plinth on which he can sit (in the Place Denfert-Rochereau, in case you’re curious), happy, loved by visitors, for the rest of his life. That story feels a lot like the story of a wanderer, maybe an immigrant, looking for his place in the world.
But there’s still more, something less tangible, more internal: the lion is lonely, and he needs to find his place in life. Is there anyone out there who can’t identify with that loneliness, or with the desire for a dream to achieve? Is there anyone who doesn’t nod along with the wish to have others tell us, “Yes, you’re here. You’re alive, and I see you.” I doubt very much that the lion is alone in his search for a job, love, and a future, whether you’re hunting physically or internally.
And, yes, in this miserable election there was a lot of talk about people’s hopes and dreams, and who has the right to pursue those hopes and dreams. (There was also a lot of talk about immigrants, but I’ll let you suss out the connections to A Lion in Paris by yourself.) I found, rereading this book, that our lion is a sympathetic figure: he’s on the side of those who believe that with a little soul-searching and hard work, we ought all to be able to achieve our hopes and dreams. And, whatever the outcome of this one election, he encourages us to commit again to hoping and dreaming. He encourages us to work towards achieving our dreams. He encourages us not to sit at home, bored and unhappy, but to get out there and get doing, and to find others to love and help us, too.
So, disappointed and upset as I am, punched in the gut as I feel, I’m going to stand on the back of this lion and announce, “Onwards, friends! Let’s hope, dream, and work. Let’s find our jobs, our loves, and our futures.”
Just– maybe give me a few days to get there, OK? This was sort of a hard election to face up to. And, in the meantime, I recommend that you find your own copy of A Lion in Paris, and prepare yourself to pursue your own hopes and dreams.