That summer we finally saw Paris, I wanted to wait for sunset to climb the forty steps to the roof of the Arc de Triomphe so we could see the lights of the Champs-Élysées blazing against an inky sky. We nearly missed it entirely. It was a balmy night in early July, when the long hours of daylight stretch well past 9:00, leaving a tight one-hour window between dusk and closing time. We raced through the Metro from the quaint brasserie where we lingered over the wild mushroom bisque, roast rabbit, and delicate crème brûlée of our final French feast before heading home to the land of Wonder bread and pale, pithy tomatoes picked too soon. We arrived breathless at the circle with less than ten minutes to spare, the arc gleaming majestically across the way and a veritable moat of high-speed traffic swirling around it. How the hell do you get over there? we thought as we frantically tried to solve this riddle, and for half a second, we considered dodging the cars to run across on foot, which anyone who has actually been there will tell you is a death wish. Then we found the staircase to the underground walkway, and like an action hero who narrowly escapes the predator by doing a baseball-slide under an almost-closed mechanical door, we were some of the last people waved through to the spiral staircase.
The ascent was dizzying, twisting and twisting upward at a near gallop that was 1 part residual panic and 2 parts unfettered jubilation at finding myself among the stony innards of this iconic structure I had admired only in pictures for all those years of high school and college French.
That view from the roof sits squarely on the short-list of vistas where I felt my human smallness so fully dwarfed and transcended by the vastness of the sprawling world. The major avenues of Paris emanate from from the arc at its center like many hands on a clock, with street lights illuminating each arm in alternating red and green amid the twinkling of long lines of lampposts and store fronts.
Many of the city’s most compelling landmarks sit eagerly at your feet, beckoning your curiosity and exploration, which was so bittersweet on our last night in town. But we make choices, and as much as each of those seductive avenues invited a stroll, we don’t often have the luxury of “world enough, and time.”
I thought of that moment on the top of the arc last week as I processed the results of my ERA biopsy, which came back “pre-receptive” and plunged the marginal pieces of my reproductive history that I thought I’d reasoned through and diagnosed back into inexplicable mystery, shifting and confounding clinical decision-making. The possible routes to resolution splay in every direction, each of them shrouded in uncertainty, many of them staking an independent claim on finite financial resources, all of them staking a claim on time when too many years have already been frittered away on fruitless endeavors. We are desperate for the fast-track, sulking and stranded on the sidewalk, searching frenetically for the underground walkway while the narrow window on my ovarian function is sliding inexorably to a close, weighing the outcomes in what feels like a painful algorithm of reliability against desirability, trying to decide how much stock to put in a diagnostic test with preliminary data when gambling with last chances. This is the game – the mutually exclusive choices, the allocation of resources when the evolving science can always offer something to try, a reason for hope: “two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” and all I want is to choose a path that doesn’t leave me “sorry I could not travel both.”