The worst feeling in the world is that of being lost— nobody likes it. The only options when lost are to ask for directions and risk looking the fool or to indulge in arrogance by stumbling around a few extra hours. Either way, the outcome is dim.
What’s worse than getting lost? Getting lost in the middle of the forest just before sunset on a winter day in Scandinavia. This was my situation.
Given my circumstance, it was understandable that I wasn’t in the best of moods. My morale was sinking as quickly as the sun, which was pretty low already. I was cold. I began to think about how I would stay warm. With nothing more than the clothes on my back, I had no method of making a fire. Yes, I realized that it was possible to make a fire by rubbing sticks together, but I was by no means a survivalist. My skills extended no further than watching Bear Grylls in a few episodes of Man Vs. Wild— that guy’s a boss.
Fortunately, my mind didn’t have too much time to come up with worst-case scenarios before I stumbled upon a path. With spirits lifted, I exuberantly followed it through the woods, hoping upon a star that it would lead me back to the town I was staying in. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. Instead, it led me to a small shack in a clearing. I was disappointed to say the least, but not all hope was lost; smoke was pillaring out the chimney of the cabin. I began to imagine myself sitting by the fire, eating steaming stew and drinking a piping-hot drink. Eagerly, I rushed to the door and pounded on it. My teeth were chattering.
The door creaked and an old man stood in front of me. It then hit me that I was not in America. This man probably didn’t speak English; I certainly didn’t speak a lick of Norwegian! An awkward moment passed before I spoke up.
The man mumbled something incoherent.
“Hi,” I repeated. “I’m lost.”
The man said something in a different language. I assumed it was Norwegian. My hopes began to sink again. I felt the distant warmth of the fire tickle my icy nose. I had to make it inside!
“Can I come in? My name is Jared. I’m lost. I’m from America. I don’t speak Nor—”
“American?” The man mustered in his best English.
“Yes! American! Can I come in?” I found my hands more useful at communication than my words. I made a few weak gestures, trying to convince him to let me in.
He seemed content enough just knowing that I was American. He stepped aside, inviting me in.
“Thank you! Thank you!” I rushed inside, desperate to feel the fire. It was then that I realized just how pathetic I was. Here I was, a twenty-something year old, able-bodied man, unable to fend for myself in the wild. And to contrast that, I’m finding solstice with a withered old man, probably in his sixties or seventies, who seemed completely able to take care of himself. America has made me weak, I thought. I dismissed the idea for the time being. All I really cared about was how wonderful the heat of the fire felt upon my numb body.
The old man was a wonderful host. He made me some hot tea, which I gulped down with joy. It wasn’t until I was warm and relaxed that I had the idea to use a translator app that I had on my phone. I typed in “Thank you. My name is Jared. I am lost. Do you have a map or someway to help me get back to the town I’m staying at? Sorry to impose, but can I sleep here tonight?” and translated it to Norwegian. When he saw it, the old man chuckled a little and for the first time, smiled at me. He took the phone from me and translated a message for me. It said “I’m Alex. My home welcomes you. I shall show map to you in morning. You sleep on floor tonight.” I typed in “Thank you.” He nodded.
The next morning, I was alone; the old man was nowhere to be found. All I saw was a note in Norwegian and a map sitting on the table in the cabin. I translated the letter which strangely said, “Jared, I have left. I am moving on in world. Cabin has been my home for ten years, but today is day I leave. Here is map. Wish the best of you in life. Goodbye.”
After a short walk through the woods that had disoriented me the night before, I found the small town I was staying in, returned to America and continued to live my life. But I never forgot the old man who let me stay in his cabin that night. To this day, the story of Alex is one of my favorites and I tell it to anyone who will listen.