The best way to write your own story is by asking other people about theirsThree years ago, on the last leg of the “Camino de Santiago,” a 900km trek across northern Spain, my dad came across a Norwegian woman and a Dutch man, both of whom were in their late eighties.
Curious as to what had brought the elderly couple to Spain, my dad grabbed an open seat beside them at the bar and said hello.
It turns out, four years earlier, the two, who hadn’t known each other at the time, were walking the “Camino” alone — as a way of coming to grips with the recent passings of their respective partners. And one day, their paths briefly crossed. It was nothing more than your standard quick encounter with a stranger — they didn’t even exchange names.
However, something about the man fascinated the woman. Months later, back in Norway, time and time again, she would catch herself daydreaming about the man.
That is until one day she got sick of only seeing his face when she closed her eyes. She decided to take life into her own hands so she could see his face when she had her eyes open too.
Knowing nothing more than the man was Dutch, she sat down and wrote the offices of the “Camino” a letter requesting any information regarding any Dutch men who finished “The Walk” the previous September.
A few days later, to her surprise (and evidently loose regulations) she received a reply. And in the message were the names of four men.
Later that day she took the names she was given and did the only thing she could think of — she sat down and wrote out four identical Christmas cards. Then after posting them she silently went about with her day with her heart pumping and fingers crossed.
A few days later, she walked out to her mailbox and saw a name staring back at her — it was from her mystery man.
The two have been together ever since.
Take a second and think about that.
A woman in her eighties………
She briefly meets a man………
She cannot stop thinking about him………
She decides to put herself out into the world by writing four letters………
One day she gets one in return………
A few years later, they were seen walking together as a couple — and not just the shadows of what could have been.
When my dad first told me this story my imagination ran wild envisioning the elderly woman sitting down to write the four Christmas cards. And it wasn’t hard to imagine the look on her face the day she picked up her mail and saw a name staring back at her.
But once my mind slowed, I sat back and thought about the whole story. As I replayed it in my head the elderly woman wasn’t the only person I began thinking about.
As I traveled back, I also began envisioning my dad — a 73-year old American guy walking alone in a foreign country who had the courage and curiosity to stop and talk to someone simply because they intrigued him.
How many times do we let opportunities to talk to someone who looks interesting pass us?
How many times do we throw caution to the wind and allow our curiosity to guide us?
How many times do we put deadlines, goals, and commitments in front of us — instead of just living in the moment and talking to someone whose face looks like it has a story to tell.
My dad fought in Vietnam. He survived cancer. He endured a 50-year career that took him all over the globe during some of history’s most trying times. However, it’s in that moment — when I see him sitting down to talk to the elderly couple simply because he thought they held a story that was worth hearing that makes me the most proud to be his son.
This is because it made me realize that the key to getting the most out of life isn’t about being the fastest, nor is it about being the strongest or the smartest.
The key to getting the most out of life is about walking through as many doors as you can and learning a new something, seeing a new somewhere and meeting a new someone.
In short, getting the most out of life is about joining the conversation and not trying to control it.
That elderly woman could be anyone.
She could be sitting across from you right now as you’re reading this on the train.
Or she could be the elderly woman who you see every day struggling to get her groceries up her steps.
Instead of just sitting there, steal a line from my dad and extend your hand and say hello.
You never know — you may just learn that by asking her about her life you discover a better way to live your own.
PS: smile and say hi to an elderly person today — it matters.