2017 Scene & Story #1

There is always something new to learn, another fresh way to stretch the mind. Each book on my shelf marks a leap forward.



When I was twelve, the earth moved under my feet. My family was moving, again. From mild winters to lake-effect snow. From evangelicals to big city liberals. From innocence to painful growth.

At the same time, I was required to take my first French class. My teacher was a jubilant natural beauty with European flair. She loved making new sounds with her rounded lips and delighting us with unique parts of French culture. I had never known such a happy adult.

I dove into the deep end of French that year. Absorbing every little tidbit I could find, I wore my French vocabulary like a luxurious fur coat. I didn’t have to be the naïve hillbilly with a funny accent. I could be Rachelle.

I imitated the cassettes until I was Rachelle nearly all the time. The phrase Écoutez et Répétez gave me a little frisson. Those seductive melodic phrases were a portal through which I dreamed of bigger things for myself.

Then we moved again. Since I had begun French earlier than my high school peers, I was able to look down my nose slightly at all the pauvre students who were stumbling over simple verb conjugations. I was outwardly humble and volunteered to tutor when asked, but inside I loved having that edge.

I may have felt alone, unmoored, and deeply lost, but I always had le français. Rachel suffered from undiagnosed severe depression mixed with manic episodes. Rachelle was smooth and urbane, untroubled by petty high school drama.

Rachel tried to commit suicide. Rachelle applied to the American University in Paris.

The two merged when reality showed me that I was actually going to a small Midwestern university. I majored in French for four more years, studied in Belgium for a semester, and returned to earn a Master’s degree in French literature and linguistics.

Finally, I became the French teacher. It was wondrous. I even had the same curly stacked hair and enthusiastic smile that my first teacher had. I was living my truth, passing on my love for French to other middle-schoolers.

After just a few years, Rachel was feeling somewhat lost and began to knock around inside my head so much that I was forced to quit my job and stare my depression in the face without blinking.

Rachel got married, had a baby, moved again, and then had two more babies. Each time her depression came it excavated a little more of le français that Rachelle had carefully mounded on top of her ego.

Rachel, now a married mother of three, a long way from being the French teacher, was in danger of committing suicide. Rachel and Rachelle were no longer. There was only depression.

I found honesty, a doctor, a therapist, medication, meditation, acceptance, supportive friends, a better diet, running, and every scrap of anything that would help me escape the terrible place I was.

That was seven years ago. Since that arduous “leveling out” period, I have slipped and stumbled, but I am always finding a new passion to coax me out of the dark. Writing, spirituality, yoga, crochet, raptors, tarot, any other language, and most recently photography, have each played a role in growing my light in the last few years.

At Christmas, a family member asked, “Do you think you’ll ever use your French again?” I knew that he meant to ask if I would get a teaching job.

I said, “Maybe!”

Then I smiled and thought, French has given me the blueprint for overcoming the worst life has to offer. It taught me to refocus on something artful and enriching. It taught me to step on depression’s neck and hold it down with the pointed heel of my red leather boots. I use it every single day.


Two of my friends are hosting a monthly Scene & Story Linkup through 2017. You'll notice their photographs show talent, experience, and an eye for beauty. I decided to throw mine in there anyway. Visit my friends Sarah at Paisley Rain Boots, and Lee at Sea Blue Lens.


36 comments:

  1. Rachel (or should I say Rachelle?), what a beautiful, from-the-heart post you've written. I've always wished I could speak a bit of French, if only to be able to pronounce it when phrases or quotations show up in something I'm reading. Your writing is wonderful - I love picturing you wearing your vocabulary "like a luxurious fur coat" - and your photo requires no apologies, it's perfect. Thank you for joining our new link-up!

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    1. Merci beaucoup! The link-up is a great idea. It's already been fun to look at the other links. It'll be a fun challenge for me.

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  2. One thing that kept resonating with me as I read your story is how one person can have such a lasting impact on another's life - and it is often a teacher. I wonder if your first French teacher has any idea. I love your photo - it's a wonderful illustration of the power of learning - always.

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    1. So true! I still keep in touch with a French teacher from my college days, but sadly I don't even remember that first teacher's name.

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  3. Oh Rachel what a heart wrenching story, but yet filled with so much light. Much like the light that is eluminating your French book in the photograph. We each have our talents and gifts to share, each unique, never forget that. Honored to have you join us in Scene & Story. I had a French teacher like that in high school, although after two years of French I barely survived when I visited Paris in 2007.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Sarah. I can absolutely relate to barely surviving in a French-speaking country. After years and years of textbook French, walking down a cobblestone street and hearing it in the air was an entirely different thing.

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  4. I appreciate the courage and bravery of sharing your story. And I love that image of the red leather boot holding down the neck of depression. Powerful and determined.

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    1. Thank you! That is my favorite line too. I had a fantastic friend who wore boots like that and she reminded me of Wonder Woman.

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  5. Beautiful - and so inspirational. Thank you for sharing something so freely & openly with us, keep moving forward - one step at a time and never forget how far you have come.

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    1. Thank you Patti! At the hardest times I would have described myself as weak, but looking back I was strong even then. :) I try to keep that in mind when I'm tempted to think poorly of myself now.

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  6. Fear seems to release itself when we are able to tell our story. You are an inspiration with each word you've written. I am sure you have inspired countless students just as your teacher inspired you....Happy 2017

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    1. Yes. Yes. Yes. Fear is released. I would love to think I impacted students in my short tenure as an official teacher, and even now as a writer who teaches through stories. Thank you so much for your comment!

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  7. Such a lovely/heartbreaking/inspiring read that drew me right into your heart. We raised our kids in Paris - were there for 12 years...moved my daughter back to the states when she was 12...so I feel that I lived what you've shared a tiny bit through her. It was a jarring move. So my heart really connects to you. Thanks for sharing with so much vulnerability.

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    1. Thank you! I wonder if she has a different sense of self when she speaks different languages too.

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  8. What a heart-rending story, but one which finished and continues so beautifully. French is a beautiful language and I've been speaking it for most of my adult life. I live in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

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    1. Thanks for commenting Sandra. My closest friend lives in Zurich now and I hope to visit him soon.

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  9. Wonderful and honest words, French is a beautiful language full of romance and nuance. Thank you for sharing something so deep and personal.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I've written a little about French and a lot about mental illness before, but never quite this way. It reframed the story for me.

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  10. An enduring story you've shared with us, thank you.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Karen!

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  11. Any form of creativity whether it's writing or knitting it can help our state so much. I always loved to hear someone speak in French. Thank you for sharing yourself.

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    1. Thank you! It's so true. Training your mind on the details and process prevent it from ruminating.

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  12. Wow. Here's to red leather boots! Keep them buffed and supple. You drew me in to your full-of-heart post. "Art Saves" I have posted among my work. It's so true.

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  13. Bonjour...what a powerful story you have shared here. And your book photo is wonderful! I, too, have a pair of red leather boots that I slip on when I need to tap into my big, bad girl self! Thank you for this story. Aloha!

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    1. We should all have a pair. I guess red invokes the fire and the sound of heels on the floor reminds me of drive and purpose and getting to work. :)

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  14. Rachel, what an honest and inspiring story you have shared, and your photograph is beautiful and perfect with your eloquent words.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words. That made me smile!

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  15. Rachel, I admire your courage in sharing your story. A teacher influenced your life with her words and you can influence other with yours. You have a gift for words and photography. Your photo is beautiful!

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    1. Thanks for commenting! I have had so many wonderful teachers (and still do). It's almost overwhelming to think of all the good they added to my life.

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  16. Thank you for sharing this touching, wonderful writing. Congratulations on your work and your life!

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    1. Thanks, Ellen. At a certain point, I started seeing my story with a happy ending. That is the best part. :)

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  17. What an amazing journey you have had and how wonderful you had french as your anchor to get you through the darker parts of your life. I am so happy you have found a whole you with the support of drs friends and your loved french. Thank you for sharing such deep angst in such a melodic way. I grew up in a very devastating environment and my books were my anchor.

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    1. Books have been salvation for so many. Sounds like we are kindred spirits. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  18. That is quite an honest story Rachel. Your story will no doubt help others struggling with depression. I understand it very well but am fortunate to have it under control for many, many years now. Beautiful post. Visiting from Sarah's PRB

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    1. Thanks for visiting and sharing your own story. My hope is that the more we talk about mood disorders, the more it will help those who are undiagnosed to seek help.

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I would love to hear what you think!