Location: Collonges, France
I could not have wiped the smile off my face if I had wanted to. I was back. It had been just over six years since I had stepped on Mont Salève, possibly my favorite place in the world. A lot had happened in those past six years, I had moved across the world and back, finished college, got my first job and many other things. I was grinning like an idiot the whole hike up as my mind was transported back to a different time of life.
But I also felt myself thinking about what had really been accomplished in the last five years since I left France. I felt a need to account for what it all measured up to. Obviously in the last five years I had a lot of time to do, well, just about anything actually. This caused me to often find myself wanting to know if all that time amounted to anything. Was it time well spent, or just time that had come and gone?
My first step on the Salève’s rocky trails occurred on my first day in France ever. The year ahead was a leap of faith. As a teenage student starting another school year on a new continent, I had two goals: have as much fun as possible and learn to speak French. Looking back, on the year I know that I had a ton of fun, hence the foolish, reminiscing grin I had on my face while hiking. But it wasn’t all about fun. As students, we spent hours trying to piece together our homework like the foreign language it was. After nearly 10 months, we had all arguably achieved something great. But, the day after our graduation provided us with one final task, the never-ending endeavor called maintenance.
As young adults in our late teens and early twenties, none of us had the benefit of being in our mind's formative years where languages tend to stick in the brain. Perhaps if we had stayed longer the imprint would have been more permanent, but since that wouldn’t be happening we had to do the next best thing, practice. By living in an English-speaking country that doesn't require, or even allow, the French language in order to be a productive member of society, we all had the option to let our abilities slowly fade away.
After a day of hiking with a good friend, Harena, we went back to his place for dinner. I didn’t really consider it until afterwards, but dinner was my test. Harena’s family consists of three rambunctious young men and their parents. No doubt we would reminisce, tell jokes and all the other things people do at dinner, except in French. Instead of a casual dinner, this could very possibly be a communications nightmare.
For the last five years I’d occasionally read French books, skyped French friends from far away and sat down to write in French. All of this in the name of maintenance, which if you’re wondering, is significantly less fun than learning for the first time. But, the thing about maintenance is that it pays off in the end.
Dinner was wonderful. After a single day back in France and some good conversation with Harena I felt like my French was back, albeit a little rusty. Together we laughed, told stories and talked about our lives.
So, what did those five years of intermittent practice amount to? Well today they amounted to good friends, laughs all around and a hike on my favorite mountain. I wouldn’t trade those boring hours fumbling through translations for one minute of that day. Not only because of the company, but also for the validation of time well spent.
This isn’t a story of praise in my own accomplishments. No doubt I waste plenty of time, just like anyone else. Rather, this is a story in praise of maintenance and practice. I have to use it as a reminder to myself of what time well spent can add up to. It serves as motivation when I feel like doing nothing, by reminding me that instead of spending 20 minutes browsing videos online, I could make them productive.
So, I’d encourage you to think about what you want to maintain. Maybe you want to think more about your physical fitness or ability to play the guitar. I’m sure you have learned to do countless things in your life, but can you do them now? I’m also sure you’ve heard a lot of sentences start like this, “I used to be able to…” Would you rather be that person or the one who says, “I can still...”?
All it takes is a little maintenance.