The Stranger I Met in a VFW Parking Lot on a Thursday Night

I’ll call her Dottie. I didn’t ask her name, but she looked like a Dottie to me.

I was at the VFW for a group run and I was early. I stood inside by myself for a couple minutes and decided to go back to my car to watch a couple more Gary Vaynerchuk videos before my friends arrived for the 6:15 run.

As I approached the parking lot I saw an old white mini van parked in the handicapped stall. The side door was open with a foldable walker leaning against it, and an unsteady looking woman (Dottie) was wrestling with something in the back of the van.

I was already chilly but I felt the need to offer to help her. So I quietly walked up and said ‘can I help you with anything?’ The poor woman jumped, clutched her chest, looked at me and let out a huge sigh while she leaned against the side of the van. Of course I’m thinking ‘shit! Did I give her a heart attack?? I was just trying to be nice!’

But as she caught her breath she apologized for being so jumpy.

Once she steadied herself I asked again, ‘can I help with anything?’

From there she continued maneuvering things around in the back of her van, telling me how her son in law and her friend often ask to help get her motorized cart out, but by the time she explains it she can do it herself.

I watched as she expertly moved a motorized arm to secure the cart, moved it by hand to swing it out of the back, then pushed a button to lower it to the ground like a pro. While she performed her normal routine she told me that her mom had bought this mechanical arm for her a long time ago because she wanted Dottie to still have her life and not be bound her a disability.

I paid special attention to how grateful she was for her mom all these years later for buying that.

I asked her how long she had been needing to rely on the cart for transportation. She started her mental math out loud.

“Well, David passed away 15 years ago and it was two years before that, so 17 years ago.”

I always stop in my tracks when someone talks about a spouse dying. That pierces my heart every single time.

She went on to tell me how she’s at the VFW every week for cribbage, and the senior center 5 times a week to play cards with her friends, and about how grateful she is that she can still get around by herself.

Let me repeat.

She’s grateful she can get around by herself.

Her husband has been dead for 15 years.

Her legs don’t work hardly at all.

And she finds something to be thankful for.

This warm, sweet, exuberant woman I met by chance in a dark VFW parking lot on a Thursday night chooses appreciation over complaining. And what do we bitch about? The weather, standing in line for too long, our jobs, our lack of jobs, being too busy, our banana is over ripe….

Dottie chose, and continues to choose to see the things that work for her. She is social. She has a full life. She’s a loving person. All this was evident from spending 5 minutes with her.

Earlier today I was thinking about time. How it’s running out for ALL OF US. We will all die. It’s a fact.

About 10 days after my kidney donation I visited the Milwaukee location of my bank to meet up with a good friend for lunch. Our president Dave came over to see how I was doing. He then paused, crossed his arms, and thoughtfully said “you know, between your Italy trip, going to Greece, and now doing this, it’s like you do all this because you feel that time is running out.”

EXACTLY. Because it is. That was the best compliment I have ever received.

And Dottie gets that. She could sit at home, label herself as a ‘shut-in’, and wait to die to be reunited with her husband. But she doesn’t.

It’s people like Dottie that I want to spend time with, learn from, and build a better life because of. It’s people like her that focus on the good, create the best life they can for themselves, and spread joy.

There’s a podcast of Gary Vaynerchuk’s where he talks about how to stay motivated. You want to know his answer? It was brilliant.

He said ‘go volunteer at a nursing home.’ That’s where you will see people close to death and full of regret. (Fast forward to 43 minutes in if you want to jump right to it.)

I don’t think Dottie will feel regret. And I won’t either. Neither will my good friends, because they’re living on purpose too.

I am so thankful for the Dottie’s of the world.

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