Running up the stairs to Platform 2, we saw the TGV humming on the tracks, unmoving. Unfortunately, the doors had closed, and the mustached, uniformed man subtly shook his head, indicating that boarding was no longer an option. Just then the train began to creep forward; seats 22 and 23 of car 14 were vacant. We missed it.
Typically, I am an easy-going traveler, one who goes with the flow. Calm. Assured. Unflappable. At that moment, however, something in me snapped. It was 8:15 AM, and I was supposed to be on a train to Paris with my oldest son, who was scheduled to take an AP World History exam at noon. This was the only possible date for him to take the exam, and the International School in Paris was the only location with the credentials to administer the test. We had paid the non-refundable $250 test fee, and we were told that he had to be at the testing site, photo ID in hand, at 11:45 AM sharp.
But we missed the train. I held back tears as I went into the ticket office and explained our predicament. The next possible train to Paris departed at 10:15 AM and was scheduled to arrive at the Montparnasse station at 11:15 AM. From there we would have to take the Metro and then walk about six blocks. We would never make it to the school by 11:45, but we had no other option. I paid the penalty to change our tickets.
While my son took everything in stride, he kept asking me why I was panicking; because I am not usually a panick-er. I think I was feeling that very rare (for me!) burden of responsibility. My husband, a first-born, has what I think of as an over-developed sense of responsibility. I, a baby of the family, have practically no sense of responsibility. Now suddenly I was the one who had to get our son to the testing center on time to take a major exam that could have an impact on his university applications and future life! I really should not be entrusted with such tasks—I cannot take the pressure!
We waited in the train station café until 15 minutes before our scheduled departure, and then we headed up to the platform. We might have missed the second train, because we were waiting on Platform 2, when (by what MUST have been divine intervention!) we realized that we were supposed to be on Platform Z. Honestly, there are only TWO platforms at the St-Pierre-des-Corps Station: Platform 1, (also called Z) and Platform 2, (also called V). Do you know how similar a 2 and a Z look digitally? Could they not have used V and X? We arrived at Platform Z at the same time as our train, and we happily got on board.
I was starting to calm down a bit as we moved through car 16 toward seats 11 and 12. However, when we found our places, a man was already sitting there. He insisted that he was the rightful owner of seat 11. We reexamined our tickets. Clearly, they said car 16, seats 11 and 12. Finally, reluctantly, and quite annoyed, the man pulled out his ticket. Indeed, he did have seat 11, but he was in the wrong car—he should have been in car 18. He was not happy to move, but at that point he had to surrender his post.
The TGV got us to Montparnasse right on time, and we exited the train at a fast clip. Thankful that we always keep a ready supply of Metro tickets, we hurried through the enormous station toward Green Line 12, Direction Marie d’Issy. I stole a glance at my watch. 11:32.
We got off at the Convention stop and climbed out into beautiful Paris. I looked at the information that my husband had carefully assembled, trying to determine how we would find the school. Unfortunately, he had given me a map. After 20 years of marriage, he still doesn’t realize that I can’t read a map? Our son can read maps, but Paris streets are not always labeled, and they change names frequently. So I did what I always do in these types of circumstances: I called my husband. The conversation went something like this:
“David, we are at the Convention Metro stop, but I can’t find any street names and I don’t know which way to walk.”
“You need to head southwest.”
(Long silence while I fight the urge to throw myself on the ground and pitch a fit.)
“Honey, that doesn’t really help me.”
At this point he went to Google Maps, looking at the street view on his computer screen. (What did people do before the Internet?)
“Do you see the ‘Café Convention’?”
“Stand with your back to the ‘Café Convention’.”
I dutifully position myself as instructed.
“Turn right and walk!”
We turned right and walked…very quickly.
We found the school, and then I made a classic American blunder. The e-mail I had received said to go to the second floor, so we went up one flight of stairs and started looking for the right office. We could not find it, but a student came to our rescue. I told him whom I was looking for, and he said, “Oh, her office is on the second floor!” European second floor = American third floor. I know that, but this day clearly was meant to be a comedy of errors.
Up one floor, red-cheeked and winded, we arrived. 11:55 AM. I wondered if we had made it in time. I imagined a room full of 50 students waiting in weighted silence for the 12:00 exam to begin, and my son being told that he was too late. Instead, a warm, completely unruffled woman appeared. In a lilting Irish accent she informed us that he was actually the only one scheduled to take the AP World History Exam that day, and that the test, though indeed timed, would be administered and proctored just for him. Our tardiness turned out to be a total non-issue.
My son never once seemed bothered by the craziness of the day—which is a good thing, since he was the one who had to take a three-and-a-half-hour test. I did NOT enjoy playing the role of the responsible parent, and I am so thankful for a husband who was made for the part. Me? I am more cut out for comic relief.
Question to consider: How do you respond under cultural stress? How do you trust God when put into roles that are not comfortable for your personality? How do you find comic relief in situations that have the potential to drive you to a fit of tears?