Faux Pas: Good for the Soul

I got to thinking this morning about mistakes. How we make them, why we make the same ones over and over again, and how we're ever expected to learn from them. We make mistakes, and with time they become our special stories that we lean on to teach us future lessons or even to have a future chuckle. We take comfort in our own missteps knowing that they happened for a reason. But what about those moments, those mishaps, that give us nothing but a funny story and a smile?

I got to thinking this morning about mistakes. My head was on the mat, the yoga instructor asked us to close our eyes and shed all the past mistakes we were holding onto. With a deep breath I tried, I really tried to do this but try as I might I couldn't. There was a mistake, a small one but a good one, that I know I'll never want to part with.

I thought of my time in Paris. Living in a foreign country requires a certain level of falsified confidence, because most days, you have no idea what on earth you're doing. I learned fairly quickly that my French was not strong enough to make the transition seamless. All of the small idiosyncrasies of French society began to mount up and I would often suddenly find myself somewhere or doing something I hadn't exactly planned on.

So I figured, if I was going to survive, I would have to fake it until I made it. Whether or not it was the best method has yet to be determined, but at some point I decided that if I'm ever going to get over being seen as a stupid American, it was better to be overconfident than to be easily taken advantage of.

After two and a half weeks of living alone in my small, sparse room over a church, I was itching to return to something familiar. It was my first week at Sciences Po, and the school was offering a week of free exercise classes for students to try out, hoping we would like the classes and sign up for some of them. I studied the list of activities and decided that taking a yoga class in French would be perfection. I imagined myself flitting to some yoga studio in the first arrondissement, to a class that every other yoga-worshipping-sorority-girl sitting in their Brentwood class would be envious of. I could relax and meet some people and feel a little more alive after weeks of my daily chocolates and croissants. This was going to be a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, and maybe I would take the class for the rest of the semester. Yoga in Paris -- how fabulous.

I looked up the class online, found the address, and headed off. When I made it into the building, I noticed a crowd of adults in the lobby of this retro workout studio. Remembering the class was in "Salle 1," I breezed by the crowd and ran up the stairs and into a big dance room where people were already lining up. I threw my things down in a corner, slipped off my shoes and stood in place waiting for the class to begin. With my head held high, nose in the air, I did some preliminary stretching in eager anticipation. For the first time since getting to Paris, I knew exactly what I was doing.

But then, as the class quieted and I started looking around the room, I got the sinking feeling that something wasn't quite right. First of all, where were the yoga mats? Why were we all just standing around? Well maybe that's how the French do it? Also where were all the young Sciences Po students? I was 20 at the time, and I think the next youngest person was at the active age of 55. The most mature person in the room was pushing 90. Perhaps these classes were open to the professors, or even the public. It's unlikely that they could fill these classes anyways given that the average French person prefers to scoff at exercise than join in.

As I tried to keep calm and collected, a small old man started to lead the class in what can only be described as deep breathing while swinging your arms around and around. We had to bend our knees and do this for what felt like years. Is this how they do yoga in France? Everything was in French and this just didn't seem like a yoga class anymore. I had to accept that somewhere along the way I had gone wrong. But I refused to leave. I was too stubborn and too steadfast to give up. I wanted to be the confident American who was neither stupid or ever lost, and so I would stay and endure whatever the next hour would bring me.

After we did our stretching, the instructor had us break off into pairs to practice our "technique." I was horrified. I hadn't even an inkling of what I was supposed to do or even how to verbalize my confusion in French. My voice was gone, sinking somewhere into the back of my throat, too afraid to say anything for fear of embarrassing myself further. So a nice old woman wearing neon aerobics gear grabbed me to be her partner and asked me in French through brown teeth and purple lipstick if I had ever done Tai Chi before. I couldn't help but smile a little and even laugh. I had stumbled into a Tai Chi class for the elderly, the French elderly no less.

The rest of the class was spent with me trying to understand how to move my arms and carry out the steps without looking like a complete moron. But let's be honest, my idiocy had already been revealed so it was time to embrace it and let my freak flag fly. By the end of the hour, the entire class was in a huddle around me watching me practice the Tai Chi flow. The instructor poked and prodded me, moving my arms and stabilizing my core. He asked if I was a dancer and everyone cheered me on as I flailed about. They all asked me and some even begged me to come back the next week. "We need more of you to keep us young!" the instructor told me as I left. My partner with the neon clothes kissed me on the cheek at the door.

I will never forget what it felt like leaving that exercise studio and walking down the rue to the Tuleries station. I was giddy, practically skipping. Wiping the purple lipstick from my cheek I looked up at the sky and laughed. In trying so hard, in being so stubborn, in wanting so badly to know what I was doing, I made a mistake. It was bound to happen especially while studying abroad, and I'm glad I did because it gave me the kind of story that still makes me smile to this day.

I got to thinking this morning about mistakes. This story of my Tai Chi blunder came to mind and I let out a chuckle. The Brentwood biddy next to me glared and it made me smile all the more. I will never want to let go of past mistakes because then I would have to let go of that hour I spent learning Tai Chi and practicing my French in the first arrondissement. It wasn't a huge mistake and I didn't learn much from it except perhaps to stop trying to be perfect and start trying to revel in the mistakes I will undoubtedly make. It is the small kind of blunder that makes me smile. It reminds me that I'm human and that messing up is good for the soul.