Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia

October 18, 2015

On Not Knowing

I'm writing you from one of my favorite spots in Medellín - a little cafe called Naturalia.

The food is delicious - fresh baked breads, tasty hot sandwiches, rich and filling salads. There's great coffee, fresh-made juice, and local beers.

The owner, Laura, sits at one of the front tables every day. She's dark-haired, clear-eyed, and impeccably dressed in that Colombiano way. But more than anything, she exudes the singular radiance of someone who's deeply comfortable in her own skin.

She owns the restaurant, makes the recipes, and runs the staff - but she's actually an art historian. She's spent most of her life studying and writing about film in academia, to good success.

Then, a year ago, she had a realization that she couldn't spend one more day reading in a windowless library. She quit her job, found a space, and started the restaurant.

She had no experience running a business, hiring staff, managing a restaurant, making a menu, or remodeling a space. Her friends liked her cooking - but she'd never charged money for it.

"I hoped it would work," she told me, "because if not - I mean, I could find something - but I was kind of out of things I really loved."

A year later, the restaurant is still here, busy every day. There’s now a staff of five wonderful people, and its reputation is growing among both Colombianos and travelers like me.

Her story got me thinking about all the times we get thrown into something too soon - that terrifying space where we're acutely aware that we don't know what we're doing and that we're certainly not ready to do this.

Our worlds spinning too fast to remember nobody else does either.

Once, when I was a kid, I climbed up onto the roof to get all the balls that'd ended up there over the months. Two footballs, a soccer ball, and assorted tennis balls and baseballs. Climbing up was easy - I hopped on the table, balanced on the fence, then pulled myself up onto the roof.

But once I'd kicked down the balls to my friend, I was faced with getting down. Of hanging myself off the roof, feet dangling and unable to see, hoping to land on the narrow fencepost.

I freaked out.

At the time, my parents were off somewhere, and only my visiting grandmother was around. If it'd been my mom or my dad, they would have gotten a ladder, I would have gotten a lecture, and I'd have been grounded for a month.

My grandmother walked outside, calmly surveyed the situation and my sorry crying terror, and simply said, "You got up there. Get down."

Then she walked back inside.

I cried even louder, but soon it was clear that help wasn’t coming. So, soggy-faced, I faced the fear, dangled my feet of the edge, found the fencepost, and got down.

In the process, I learned how do to something I wasn't ready to do, even while I was scared shitless, with real consequences on the line.

This brings me back to my table here at Naturalia.

On Tuesday nights here, there are high-art films shown. On Wednesdays, there's a guest lecture followed by a Spanish-English language exchange. Every few Saturdays, the cafe has models in for a two-hour drawing session.

I don't do well with films, my Spanish is barely functional, and I can't draw to save my life - but I go to all of them.

I go because of the things Naturalia's very existence reminds me.

That it's ok to not know. But even more — it's ok to have faith in ourselves, and trust that somewhere along the way, we'll figure it out.

May you find a little unknown this week, and some faith in your ability to learn it, waiting.

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I read all week was this interview with Rhianna. It's transcendent.

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