Baby steps

“I’m not following you across that road. They have crosswalks for a reason.”

My friend shifts his feet about, afraid I’m going to drive him into a state of discomfort. And, in his eyes, potential danger.

“I’m serious. Let’s walk around and find the proper path.”

But his words come out too late. I’m already running across the 8-lane traffic circle, dodging cars as I go. My good friend, not wanting to be left alone in a city he does not understand, takes a leap of faith and follows.

We emerge safely in the center of the circle and look up to the beauty that stands over us—Le Arc de Triomphe. My friend is panting for breath, possibly shaking and clearly restless about the crime he’s just committed.

“That was the craziest thing I’ve ever done. And I don’t want to do it again.”

This is a young man with 26 healthy years to his name. We grew up together in Canada so he’s used to following the rules. He is well-paid in his work and enjoys a comfortable life. He may silently despise me for saying this, but he relies heavily on money for his comfort. And I’m not sure he’s consciously aware of that fact.

Arriving in Paris, he commits to following me around and discovering new and exciting lessons along the way. He’s tired of living a sheltered life. He wants to break out of his shell. He wants to talk to people. With confidence. He desires to rely on himself rather than the comforts and securities he’s built up around himself.

So we run across an 8-lane traffic circle. And he discovers that he’s not going to jail as a result.

We take the metro everywhere, sometimes missing a stop and often having our personal space invaded in the crowded train cars. And he learns that there’s a whole world operating outside the doors of the taxis he usually rides in.

I encourage him to ask a stranger for directions, and after a few moments of silent contemplation and mental preparation, he does. And he finally understands that people aren’t out to reject him every moment of every day. Oftentimes, people are willing to help.

I convince him to try CouchSurfing with me. We arrive in Monaco with no place to stay and a wonderful man, a local priest, invites us to stay in his home for the weekend. We drink and dine until the early morning hours with our new friend, and my mate begins to trust people again.

When we finally part ways, he walks away a more confident man. Still quiet and apprehensive, but with experiences stowed away to remind him that the world can be a good place, if you let it be. He’s a strong young man with a generous heart, and I’m proud of him.

“Thanks for forcing me out of my comfort zone,” he tells me. “I learned more this week than I have in a long time. And I think I’m okay with traveling alone now.”

“So go forth and smile, my friend. Keep your shoulders back and look people in the eye. Walk tall and think strong. And, most importantly, give people a chance.”

And so he walks off by himself, renewed with vigor and ready to take on this world. As he moves away, I notice a change. Ever so subtle, but most certainly apparent.

My good friend is smiling. And smiles can change lives.