View from Rue Saint-Georges

Two Kinds of People

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | August 31, 2016
Michael Kowalczyk/Flickr
Michael Kowalczyk/Flickr


The French writer Arthur Dreyfus observed: “Humanity can be divided into two major categories, people who stay and people who leave.” Over the past two weeks, while visiting family in New Jersey and New York, I have been thinking how true this is. I came from Paris for a college talk and decided to bring my almost-three-year-old daughter, Marlow, so she could get some much-needed English-language immersion with her grandparents. Even five years ago, it would have been impossible for me to envision myself raising the type of child who has trouble speaking my native language, the type of child who interacts with the United States primarily via FaceTime. But then again, I’ve long known that I figure in that latter category of humanity, the portion that does not stay. I’m descended from it on both sides. My mother left California when her own father couldn’t accept that she had fallen in love with a man who wasn’t white. My father left Texas as soon as he turned 18 and never looked back. (In his mind, he’d turned away from the South long before that.) I grew up in the kind of New Jersey suburb where three generations of an Italian family living in a single split-level was normal, but my parents insisted I apply to college out of state—and that was a gift. They wanted me to know the world was large. But today, such knowledge made it no easier to say goodbye to them when they dropped me at the train.

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