When it comes to finding our way around the world, wearing your heart on your sleeve can give you whiplash. I’m sure we’ve all run into our fair share of negativity and heartache, and learnt painful lessons. But ultimately, fear is the kiss of death when it comes to the spirit of love, discovery and adventure.
A cold heart and a hard mind will insulate you from any hurt and pain, but it will also render you numb. Life would be a shadow, and weariness will set in. It’d soon become impossible to see beauty anywhere. On the other hand, it’s impossible to survive the savage wilderness of reality with a soft heart and a weak mind.
So how do we strike that precarious balance?
Remain a child at heart, but cultivate a questioning mind.
Hone that sharp, intuitive awareness that will protect you from ill-intention, but always take in the world with the wide-eyed wonder, curiosity and innocence of a child. I find this balance most gratifying not just when navigating our way through the world, but in making the most of life.
On the two-hour train ride from Frankfurt to Freiburg, I made a serendipitous connection with a 27-year-old German girl called Anaela. She had simply smiled, pointed to my book and asked what i was reading. And from there, we embarked on one of the more meaningful conversations I’d had with anyone in a long while.
Tall, red-haired and freckled, Anaela is completing her Masters in Music at Freiburg University and plays the harp. She loves art, has a boyfriend who is a curator in a museum, and comes from a fascinating family of actors, musicians and opera directors. She enjoys exploring new cultures and best of all, we see eye-to-eye on nearly every issue that mattered to us. We’re both liberal, believe in pursuing our passions regardless of what society deems ‘sensible’ jobs, and have causes we care deeply about. We also had so much to learn from each others’ experiences in social work. She linked me up with an orphanage in India and we both made a firm promise to work on something meaningful together someday.
When we arrived in the city, she made a detour and took me to my hotel so I wouldn’t get lost, and even brought me to her favourite cafe for a drink and cakes after I’d checked in. It was raining out, and we both cupped our steaming hot teas till they turned cold, lost in animated conversation. “I can’t believe this is the first time we’ve met! You feel like an old friend.” she smiled, eyes twinkling. Her hospitality and warmth toward a total stranger moved me so much. I was beyond thankful that the first person I opened myself up to there turned out to be such a kindred spirit, despite us growing up in such different parts of the world. One is not always so lucky, of course. But we could have easily parted silent strangers, never enjoying such a brief but profound connection, had we closed our hearts and minds that afternoon.
It made me wonder how many such memorable (possibly life-changing) encounters we miss out on each day because we overthink things. Or simply let people around us pass us by, faces in our gleaming devices. Of course it’s natural and sometimes important to be cautious in life. But knowing how to balance a quiet watchfulness with youthful spontaneity will keep us both safe, and constantly inspired.
After all, it’s moments like these that make all the difference between being a tourist always looking in from the outside, and becoming a true citizen of the world.