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Two years ago I ran into a man at the coffee shop.  Retired military, maybe 75 or 80.   The shop was full that morning; I’d finished my work and was just sitting.  He had a book with him and asked if he could share the table, but when he sat down he started to talk.

He talked and talked; at first I thought, “oh, dear.”  I’m polite and a pretty good listener and I tend to attract talkers; this can be a blessing and a curse.  I wasn’t sure how this would turn out.

As he talked I “heard” this:  listen, and listen carefully.  It took awhile: he talked mostly about his life and the lives of his two children.  All three characters were highly accomplished and this can be depressing but on the other hand, some people focus on the good and some people focus on the bad.  I knew better:  life is a mix of the two.  I settled in to wait for the nugget.

Don talked about an extraordinary career in which he was instrumental in developing tactical training for the military.  His stories were funny and interesting.  He stressed that he took full charge of the task and it was highly creative.

As a civilian and entirely unrelated to his standing in the military, he became interested in knowing more about some European country that now slips my mind.   So he simply contacted the American embassy and asked if they could arrange for him to visit.  Next thing he knew he was visiting that country as a guest of the embassy.   He remained for a week, sightseeing and learning about the country from the embassy staff.

There was more.  More stories of creative thinking, invention, risk and so on.  His children have turned out to be equally driven individuals, and I got it:  all three have taken charge of their destinies.

This information might have remained interesting but remote; I could have thought, “Wow, how great for you. I wish I could do that.”

During our exchange he was engaged, but kind of unfocused, as if he could have been talking to anyone, or was looking off in the distance to another time.  But suddenly he looked right at me and he was completely focused.

“You know Katie,” he said, “you can do anything you want.”

There it was, the pay-off.  Don was just the messenger.

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