While traveling around Europe in 2013, I encountered a peculiar old man in Germany. This is one of my fondest travel memories.
When I was 21, me and my friend Olli had a project called “On the Road of Dreams”. We would travel around Europe for 20 days, asking 1000 people to write or draw their future dreams on postcards that we would show at exhibitions and post on our website.
The trip meant that I had brief yet meaningful encounters with hundreds of people from all over Europe and the world. Some of the meetings have lingered in my mind more often than others.
One such encounter happened in Munich, Germany. An old man was playing petanque with his friends. I asked him to write his dream on a postcard, and we got talking.
The Man with the Voice
The man was a singer, and his dream was to be able to retain his singing voice for longer. (He also used the postcard to show how to turn a clef into a duck. He was a funny guy.)
The man – whose name I have long forgotten – told me he had done a similar trip in Europe in his youth. He would stop people and ask them the colors of different sounds.
In other words, he would talk to strangers and ask them things like “What color comes to your mind if I say U? What about A?”.
The man tested a few sounds with me. He was surprised that a calm aa reminded me of green and not sky blue. Otherwise my answers were close to the universal results he noticed on his journey.
It was a silly project, and the man knew it. And I think that story summarized something integral about life: I think people often try too hard to seem rational. We want our actions to be goal-oriented, and we want to give explanations for why we are doing things.
I think that’s unnecessary. We don’t always need to make sense. We can do things that are irrational and unrelated to our goals and careers. No reason needed, just go and do stuff.
Waiting for the Next Generation
As we sat together, the old man reflected on the meeting of generations we were experiencing. As a young man, he had traveled around Europe and encountered people with his own project. Now I was a young man who approached him, an old man, with my own project.
I saw a connection between our projects, and shared a thought with him.
Maybe, in 50 years, it would be my turn to be the old man, and I would be approached by some young person with his own project? In this meeting, I could tell about my meeting with the old singer, and the cycle of silly projects would continue with yet another generator.
The old man enjoyed the idea and started reflecting on time and mortality. Recently, a member of his group of friends had passed away. Remembering the friend and their time together felt important to the man.
“In those short moments of remembrance, the friend is almost among us again. As alive as a dead person can be”, the man said.
The man got up from his seat to return to his game of petanque.
“When you meet that young fellow decades from now, you can share my story. For a brief moment, perhaps, I will also be alive again.”