This weekend, I went to Barnes & Noble with a friend to put in some NaNoWriMo writing time (if you're reading this, B, "hi!").
About an hour in to our session, an older gentleman came up to our table.
"Would you be able to do me a favor? Mine went dead, but I'll give you a little something for your trouble," he said, waving in the general direction of what I assumed to be his computer and cracking open his wallet to peer inside.
I didn't know what he was talking about, but he looked nice enough. That’s always the first mistake someone makes right before they get abducted, but at least I was with a friend, right?
"No, no... no need to do that. What do you need?" I eyed him suspiciously.
The man pulled out a tiny, ripped piece of paper on which a short note was scribbled. I strained to read what was on it, trying to decide whether or not helping him would be harmless or if he was a crazy person.
My friend made eye contact with her phone.
"There was this advertisement in Harper's Magazine. It's a very famous magazine. Reputable."
"Oh, I know," I answered, more to put the man at ease with his own discomfort than to point out that I knew the magazine. He was fidgeting and looking down at his notes, seemingly unsure of how to proceed.
"So if you could just type up this answer to the ad and send it in for me..."
"But how are you going to receive the response if they reply?" I interrupted, now intrigued.
He had already thought of that, tapping the paper over the place where he had written an email address he said was his niece's.
"Oh, ok. Sure, I can do that for you."
So I typed out this man's message, realizing halfway through that he was answering an ad for a romantic partner. I let him read over it when I was done before hitting send. He skimmed, murmuring the words I had written under his breath as he did.
"Perfect," he said, chuckling, as he backed away from the table so he could look at both me and my friend. "I've never done anything like this. I'm Italian. This is a woman who is Asian-Italian. She lives in Italy. I've never done anything like this," he repeated.
He stood smiling at us, shaking his head.
"Well, the best of luck to you, hope she answers!" both of us gushed.
At that he said thanks, offering to buy us coffees, but we waved him away.
"Good luck," we said again, and he went back to his seat in the Starbucks cafe. That was that.
I want to know if she replied! Of course, I'll never get to know, but I already played out the man's future in my head. Him getting a reply. His new love interest picking up the phone to dial America. Him starting a courtship and packing his bags to move to Italy and start a new life.
What struck me most about the situation was seeing how excited he was at the prospect of starting something new in this stage of his life.
How often do you-- how often do WE-- take chances like that?
How often do we put aside time and our "supposed tos" to put ourselves out there? To stick our necks out in the unknown?
I know the man was simply answering an ad, but he was willing to make himself momentarily vulnerable by asking strangers for help. He was enthusiastic enough to answer the ad before waiting until he saw his niece, who probably would have gladly typed up his message. He was willing to hear the words "no" by coming up to our table, asking for a favor, and also by even answering the ad in the first place.
I share this story because I found it inspiring and think you will, too.
- You don't have to wait.
- You're never too old.
- Sometimes taking a risk--even if all you're risking is hearing the answer "no"-- can bring energy and joy to your life.
- Odds are, people want to help you achieve your goals, you just have to ask.
Oh, and if you have writers' block, head to a public place and talk to a stranger. You may just find some inspiration there.