Jennifer KernsI remember telling my parents that I could die happy because I was 20 years old and in Paris. I really meant it. I was the luckiest person around. Thankfully, I didn’t die then, but I think the experience taught me something about appreciating the present, and doing what I really liked doing (for me, reading and thinking, being free to explore new things, being challenged by different cultures). I did know what I liked because I find myself now, at age 43, doing many of the those things still – I am a therapist/counsellor (so I listen to stories and make comparisons and connections) and I live in the United Arab Emirates (where I am challenged by many cultures – Emirati, Pakistani, Indian, Phillipino, Brazilian, Thai, Omani, South African – and am always seeing new things).

The final paper I wrote in 1993 that Dan Gunn marked was about stepping outside yourself – the “I” observing the “I” – and about how we are not really ever exactly in the present moment. Today I use that idea daily in therapy. If we can observe ourselves and our feelings and patterns, we can change. The downside is that it is very hard to stay with ourselves as we are always moving ahead. I think in Paris, even so young, I sensed this difficulty. I think saying I could die happy was a way of knowing I got close to being in the moment – seeing beauty in a market, feeling lonely on the street surrounded by people, reading and writing. It is funny to me that I still even remember that paper and that the idea still matters to me.

Since 1993, I lived 10 years in the UK, worked in fundraising in Cambridge, had two children (11 and 13), lived 8 years in Michigan, got 3 more degrees, moved to the middle east. Now my current day job is teaching nursery school to Emirati 3-year-olds. I couldn’t have predicted that if I’d tried. I hope my children can find their own 20-year-old-in-Paris experiences. I hope I find it more often myself. I keep trying.

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