Ringing In My Birthday With Audrey Hepburn

“Paris is always a good idea.”

And with the press of a stamp in my passport, the customs officer at Heathrow Airport brought a close to my 21st birthday weekend in Paris.

I have always wanted to travel to Paris. I’ve wanted to go since learning about the black expats like James Baldwin and Richard Wright who made their exodus from the racially divided America to the rich literary and art culture in France. I felt like I was a kindred soul to their journey and passions.

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The Eiffel Tower before going up | Feb. 21, 2015

So when I realized that during my study abroad experience I could go to Paris, I made it a point to schedule my trip on my birthday weekend.

Because if I couldn’t celebrate my 21st in Vegas why not do it in Paris?

But as if responding to my rhetorical question, the weather in Paris decided to pull a Chicago on me and be the most unwelcoming thing ever. It rained during my first two days there. It wasn’t like the drizzles that occur twice a year in Southern California, but instead it was torrential rain. It was the heavy rain that was cold and made your socks soak and cling around your already damp feet. And then it hailed. And rained again.

Because I was traveling alongside a group of people from California and Texas, the rain really got to us. We were not in L.A. anymore, and Paris was making this fact abundantly clear.

But it’s my birthday, I kept whispering to myself, in an attempt to ward off the regret and sadness of not being able to celebrate my 21st in the warmth of Vegas. It’s my birthday.

*****

Then came Audrey.

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Audrey Hepburn near the Siene River.

My mom has always liked Audrey Hepburn movies. I myself was not a huge fan for the simple reason that I had never seen one and I wasn’t too keen on watching black and white films.

But throughout my whole trip I felt as if Audrey Hepburn was with me.

The Eiffel Tower. The Louvre. The Mona Lisa. Street crepes. Moulin Rouge. Arc de Triomphe. French onion soup. Notre Dame de Paris. Luxembourg Palace & Gardens.

At each site I visited and meal I ate, despite the rain falling from the sky, her famous line from “Sabrina” (a movie I’ve never seen) kept coming to me: “Paris is always a good idea.”

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Therefore as the rain seeped into my boats, Hepburn’s positivity seeped into my psyche. I was in Paris. I was in Paris. I was in Paris.

So I continued my Paris adventures. With a smile on my face. And umbrella in hand. Because I was in Paris.

*****

“The most important thing is to enjoy your life — to be happy — it’s all that matters.”

Every birthday I like to reflect on who I am and how I got where I am.

Well on my 21st birthday I had made my way to Paris. I was here, living out my version of travel noire. But I didn’t do it alone. It was the accumulation of all the opportunities my parents had given me, sacrifices my grandparents and ancestors had made and other people’s encouragement for my dreams.

I was here. Near the neighborhood where Baldwin penned the ever-relevant “The Fire Next Time” and where my favorite movies from my childhood — “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Madeleine” — were set. Where dynasties rose up and fell down. And where the city of love continued to stay true to its name.

So on my birthday as I reflected, the sun reflected its light as well. It shone bright and illuminated the Paris I had imagined. People biked along the Siene River past the famous padlock wall. Musicians played their instruments as painters brushed quick strokes and created watercolor masterpieces. At brunch we had pasta and drank table wine outside.

I was happy.

Each day I had lived up until that point had moved me toward the person I had become. I’ve lived 7,665 days. That’s 7,665 opportunities to grow into this adulthood. 7,665 days to explore the world. 7,665 attempts to keep working towards whom I’m meant to be. Countless more times to keep trying.

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My friends and I smiling despite the rain | Feb. 21, 2015

So when the customs officer stamped my passport with the date “February 22, 2015” at Heathrow Airport, he unknowingly marked a new chapter in my life. From here now on my 21st birthday will be documented in my passport. A steady reminder that opportunities for travel, exploration, love, overcoming obstacles and slowing down to reflect shouldn’t be taken for granted.

*****

My 21st birthday didn’t turn out as I thought it would. I had imagined my 21st birthday as a day that would change my life. But when it finally rolled around I did not feel different. But then Audrey reminded me:

“Success is like reaching an important birthday and finding you’re exactly the same”

I simply had to look back on my day, on my weekend, on the friends I was surrounded with to realize how successful our Paris trip had been. It was a good day. I was happy with what I had.

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My 21st birthday was spent in the Paris sun at the edge of the Siene | Feb. 22, 2015

Adulthood. I guess that’s what you could call it. Or at least the beginning stages.

So with droopy eyes and throbbing feet that I’m sure were covered with blisters, I grabbed my passport back from the customs officer. I began walking toward the exit.

Then in a barely audible voice, I heard, “Happy birthday.”

I looked back at the customs officer. He had recognized me, my passport, my day, the significance of it. A grin formed on my face.

“Thank you.”

And I continued my walk toward the exit. Toward home. I was back in London. And I had never felt so mature.

“Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering — because you can’t take it in all at once.”

Thank you, Audrey. Cheers to 21.

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Outside of Luxembourg Palace on our last day in Paris | Feb. 22, 2015

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