I met her in Trieste. Like me, she had flown in from Berlin for work. Serene, modest, sensitive – she reminded me of a fawn.
When we had a moment off from work, we took the cable car up the hill to see the sea. She said it had been a long time since she’d had a chance to work by the ocean, and the feeling was so good it was hard to describe. She said that when she was young, she bounced back and forth between her divorced parents. Her mother and father seemed like nothing more than friends, so to her, love seemed like nothing more than an illusion. Berlin seemed like the perfect place; it had everything she could ever want in a city.
When I caught up with her again in Berlin, she was going through another rough patch. She was confused, completely at a loss for what to do or where to go.
I told her that life was just like that. It will never go the way you expect it to; no one city can give you everything you want. All you can do is just try to experience it as deeply as possible, just like a relationship between two people.
At this, her eyes flashed with a new clarity. She looked about her, squinting in the sun, taking in everything about that peaceful moment.
The road ahead of us is still quite long.
Girl on a Barcelona Beach
Two years ago, I went to Barcelona on business. Behind my hotel was a strikingly beautiful beach. When twilight came, I went for a barefoot stroll in the sand. I grew up on the beach, and I’ve always enjoyed the sea breeze.
I saw a girl farther down the beach, sitting on an outcropping of rock. A book lay open on her knees, her body slightly curled, her gaze cast toward the endless horizon. Her light brown hair danced in the wind, covering her forehead. I couldn’t help but walk over to her.
“Could you take a picture for me?” I stood in front of her, holding out my camera. She looked toward me with an expression of slight confusion, and nodded. She put down her book, stood up, and snapped a few shots for me.
I offered her some rather careless words of gratitude: “Thanks. I don’t know why, but when I saw you sitting here on the beach by yourself, it moved something inside me. I would like to take your picture.”
“Actually, I was just sitting here collecting my thoughts. I’ve loved creating images, ever since I was a kid, but my parents wanted me to be a lawyer. In the end I did what they wanted and chose a career in law, but now I feel lost, every moment of every day.”
“Why are you overthinking things? Just do what you want to do, problem solved. You choose the road that won’t make you feel lost, because only you know where you really want to go.” Thinking about it now, I was way out of line to give this careless advice – after all, I didn’t know the first thing about her.
A few months later, I received an unexpected letter from her. “Thank you for what you said to me on the beach that day. Can you imagine? Your words changed my life.”
I still haven’t replied. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I’m ashamed. I never thought that a few careless words could really change a stranger’s life. I began to question the impact of my brash words, whether or not I have to bear responsibility for everything I say at all times, even to strangers.
After that, every time I meet someone, I always take a moment to consider carefully before giving advice.