- Michael Thompson
A story about being brave in moments that matter
The woman sat at her kitchen table staring at the four names. In this moment, despite her 83 years, she felt like a nervous teenager. She couldn’t believe what she was doing.
Months earlier, while walking the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trek across northern Spain, she’d met a man. It seemed to be just another friendly encounter with a stranger, one of many she’d had since arriving in the country. The conversation had lasted only a few minutes, and they parted without exchanging names.
But when she eventually made her way back to her home in Norway, she couldn’t stop thinking about that man. There was just something about him… something kind, maybe. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she knew she wanted to see him again.
When she’d originally planned her trip, meeting someone new was the last thing on her mind. She’d decided to go on the walk to help her come to grips with the passing of her husband. It was a way for her to reenter the world after being deep in despair for so long. Yet she kept replaying the exchange with the man in her head, until one day, she decided to do something about it
Following the advice of a friend, she called the information offices of the Camino de Santiago and shared the whole story. She explained how she met a man during the walk. She said she didn’t have much information about him, but she knew he was from the Netherlands. She laughed when she admitted she didn’t even know his first name.
Fortunately, the person who answered the call had a soft spot for her situation. It took some digging, but by the time the phone call ended, the woman had the names and mailing addresses of four Dutchmen who finished the walk around the same time as her.
Later that day, after hours of trying to figure out what to do next, the woman hatched a plan. She spent the rest of her evening writing out four identical cards.
Years later, my father was walking the Camino de Santiago and stopped in a café outside of Leon, Spain. He began chatting with an elderly couple. After sharing a few glasses of wine together, my father asked the two of them how they’d met.
The couple smiled as the man explained that one day, he received a card from a stranger.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling stuck, I imagine that woman sitting alone at her kitchen table, thinking about the man she had met. I imagine her picking up the phone and then putting it down, wondering if the whole plan was absurd. I then imagine her thinking, “What have I got to lose?” and slowly dialing the number to the information center. I imagine her writing out the fourth letter with the same level of care as she did the first.
I imagine the lines on her face shifting when she finally looks down at her mail one day and sees the man’s name staring back at her. I can practically feel her heartbeat.
When I think about her actions, I’m reminded of the fact that we’ll never get what we want out of life if we don’t summon the strength to ask for it. How many days do we waste living in a state of hesitation because we’re scared of being rejected? How many opportunities have passed us by because we’ve given more power to our excuses than our possibilities?
I don’t want to live my life like that. I want the courage to ask for what I want. And I don’t ever want to stop treating my curiosity like a responsibility.
Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with advice on how to get the most out of life. All of it is worthless if you don’t make the decision to be brave in the moments that matter.
Maybe you’ll have to send out a thousand letters. Maybe you’ll get rejected, and it will hurt. Maybe you’ll find out that what you thought you wanted isn’t actually what you want, and you have to change your course. It’s all part of the deal. But when you default to asking, you open yourself to opportunities that can bring joy and meaning to your life. It’s far better than never knowing what could have been.