Years ago, while vacationing in Cabo, I decided to drive to La Paz, Mexico. I didn’t have a GPS and I was adventurous enough to attempt to go across Baja California with a rudimentary map that I printed from the internet. I wanted to see the clear waters of Balandra Beach. So off I went, on my small rental car, driving between fast moving, close passing cars and trucks that seemingly were only a second or so away from colliding with me. When everything seems like a close call, you just learn to go with the flow. A few hours later, I was in La Paz.
After a quick lunch and a visit to the beach, it was time to go back to Cabo. There was only one problem. I only mapped out the path going eastward. I had no idea how to get back to Cabo. I was driving around in circles. Every once in a while, I’d ask somebody for directions on how to get back to the highway that would take me back west. There were so many helpful people, but it was readily apparent that my inability to speak or understand Spanish was a major liability. People tried to help me by drawing pictures of the roads that I needed to drive to. That only lead me to different circular paths. Flustered, I stopped by a gas station to try to get directions.
Once again, I didn’t have much luck getting directions to Cabo. I was panicked. And then, something miraculous happened. There was a beat up car parked in the gas station. A man came up to me and told me that he can show me the way back to Cabo. Follow him, he said. He will take me to the highway to Cabo. I did as he said. I started my car and followed him as he drove through streets that were unfamiliar to me. We reached a highway and he pointed to a certain direction, a sign telling me that I have finally found the road home. I waved at him to thank him. He smiled and in what seemed like an instant, he was gone.
I sped through the highway, heading westward. A few hours later, I was back at Cabo. Relieved. Thankful.
The thing is, there are many beautiful things to see and experience in Cabo and La Paz. Great food, great beaches. And yet. The thing that I remember the most is the kindness of a total stranger. I was lost; somehow, this stranger found me, and set me back to the right path. I could think of a lot of religious allegories, but I really want to say something about how many of us, including me, lead our lives.
All of us, in a multitude of ways, are attracted to beautiful things. A beautiful person, a beautiful car, a beautiful whatever. How many times do we ignore the things that seem common, the things we deem unexceptional. We look up and see the bright lights. And we gravitate towards the brightest of these lights. We forget (truthfully, we neglect) the other lights in the world. Why is it that we choose to ignore so many things that can bring us so much happiness, so much joy? I can’t even fathom how much I have missed in life by not paying attention to the things that really should matter the most.
We can spend endless amounts of money trying to stay young, to become more presentable, in the hopes of being likable enough for people to pay attention to us. We surround ourselves with things to make us look comfortable, as if the look of success is somehow enough to impress everyone that we seek. Somehow, we have allowed the constant bombardment of messages extolling wealth and beauty to distract us, to make us forget what is really important in our lives.
I am so glad that I got lost in La Paz. This unfortunate happenstance lead to one of most life affirming lessons that I have experienced. In the midst of nowhere, a man in a rusty old car extended the hand of friendship to someone he didn’t know. He didn’t ask for any compensation. It was enough for him to give help when help was needed. He didn’t ask me who I was. He didn’t care that I didn’t speak his language. He just helped.
I need to remind myself of this lesson every day. Beauty comes from the heart. Love freely given, without any expectation of getting anything in return, is the most beautiful thing of all. Remember to be kind. Remember to listen. Be of service to others. Expect nothing and in so doing, gain everything.