Have you ever been in the middle of a daydream and then had a feeling that something about the moment is oddly familiar or nostalgic? It could be a little hint of deja vu. It could be the remnants of a distant memory buried in a far corner of your mind.
We don’t always get a chance to figure out how or why the feeling comes over us. Often it leaves just as quickly as it came, leaving vivid memories that tend to transcend time and space. And sometimes we never know why it happens or why we feel the way we do.
I experienced that strange yet familiar feeling while I was visiting Grenoble in 2005. I left New Jersey to spend three months in France to attend a study abroad program at the Institute of Grenoble. I’d never been to the southeast of France but I imagined snow-capped mountains, farms, and blue skies. The city had all that and so much more.
One of my favorite memories happened during a tour of the Grande Chartreuse monastery, museum, and cellar in the town of Saint Pierre de Chartreuse. The place was incredible. I remember the stone buildings that looked like a maze of castles, the meticulously crafted wooden pews, the perfectly trimmed lawn and bushes, and then seeing trees for miles. Past that there were hills surrounding the monastery on all sides.
I learned that the monks were pretty resourceful. They used their skills, everything from gardening to raising livestock to alchemy, to keep the monastery going. And then in the 1700s, something fascinating happened. Some of the alchemical scientists of the group developed the recipe for chartreuse, a bright green, herbal liqueur.
I was surprised that this group of devout monks would be the creators and sellers of an alcoholic drink that supposedly has mind-altering effects, but I was ready to taste test this potent, green drink. I had a little sip. It was sweet, spicy, and herbal. I couldn’t pinpoint all the flavors but I wanted more. After getting a few more samples from the tour guide, I stepped outside and stared at the hills.
I don’t know if it was the chartreuse or daydreaming, but I saw a giant. Not an actual giant walking towards me but the outline of one in the green hills. He seemed to be laying down on his back and looking up at the sky.
It seemed weird but I went with it and stared at the sleepy, peaceful giant that was resting in the rolling hills.
Six years later when I was attending my dad’s funeral, I was reminded of that powerful giant.
The time I had with my dad was limited. We lived in different homes and, starting when I was six years old, we lived in different countries. I saw the man he was but never knew how Seti became Mr. Nenonene.
The day before my dad’s funeral, my family was sitting in the living room of my father’s house in Lome, Togo. My eldest half-brother walked in with a wooden trunk filled with certificates, plaques, pictures, journals, and so many other memories.
Every time I picked up or pointed to an item, a different family member would share a story about my dad or our family history.
We found a few awards from the Institute of Grenoble.
Wait. That’s the school that I went to for study abroad.
Then I read some of his journal entries. He talked about the same monastery that I visited. He even tried chartreuse and talked about the rolling hills. My dad’s spirit was alive in Grenoble, and to this day, I think he’s the sleeping giant in the hills.
Without even knowing it, my dad and I were still sharing memories. We’d experienced some of the same things, just many years apart. I walked where he walked, and I saw what he saw. I knew then that he cleared the way for me, and now his spirit lights my path.