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A Mindful Visit to the VA

I went to the VA Medical Center with this guy (my dad) today to accompany him to his primary care doc appt. While I’m always up for some quality father-daughter time, I thought I was doing my due diligence of a daughter caring for her septegenarian papa. I realized later that was really happening was my dear old dad continued to teach me about how to be a good human.

(fyi- he does this every time I go out in public with him)

My dad is proud to be a vet. While he doesn’t display a vet license plate or wear a vet hat or t-shirt, he does say “thank you for your service” and acknowledges every vet he meets. He loves to start conversations with vets about what they do or did in the service as it establishes a kinship. It’s like his verbal version of a secret handshake. Walking into the VA today, before we even got to the door, I realized that this place is like a clubhouse for him. A place where he feels like he belongs. He fits in. And everyone there is there to serve him in his best interest.

He treats everyone there as if they belong to the club.

They fit in.

They belong.

And he is there to connect with them.

As we walked from the car to the front door of the building (it’s a rather large parking lot), he said hello to everyone we passed. Everyone. Even and especially those who were looking down and not paying attention to us as we walked by. He interrupted people sitting at the picnic tables, slowed down his walk to finish the conversation about the nice weather. He practically startled an older man sitting slumped over on benches when he greeted him. The guy looked up at him like “are you talking to me?” I must admit, at first, I was a little confused too. The tone in Dad’s voice wasn’t that of a stranger greeting a stranger politely on the street. The tone in his voice was one of “it’s so good to see you!” as if he were greeting an old friend.

His tone continued as he greeted everyone inside the VA as if he had a lifelong friendship with them. When the security guard at the front door questioned us about potential covid symptoms and asked us to use hand sanitizer, Dad stopped while he rubbed in the sanitizer and looked the guard in the eye as he told him how much he loves coming to the VA medical center for care.

When he thanked the volunteer wearing a red vest who held the elevator open, Dad offered a blessing in return. “Hey, I hope you have a really wonderful day. You’re entitled.”

The food service worker who dished up his pizza was told he deserved to enjoy his day.

The nurse, an Eritrean immigrant named Happy, left the exam room knowing he is entitled to a happy day and a happy life.

His doc spent 40 minutes with us, listening to all dad’s stories, answering all his questions, and overall taking the time to get to know him on all levels, not just medicinal. His primary care doc of many years had recently retired, so this was only his third visit with Dr. M, but they sat and talked like they were good friends.

As we left the VA, I caught myself kinda wishing I had been in the service so I could be part of this club. The whole place just felt so welcoming. But, the reason the place felt welcoming is because Dad exuded welcome with every step. While yes, the VA is a special place and a special club…my dad made it feel so today because of how he greeted and connected with every single fellow human he saw there. He makes a point of saying something unique, something special, something memorable to every human he passes.

You get what you give.

And he gave.

Then I realized.

I AM part of the club.

Dad has taught me to connect. To invite people into my club. To hold precious the beautiful club of being human. I love you Dad. My world is bright and full and beautiful because you teach me and remind me every day to find the precious in everything and everyone.

I am my father’s daughter.


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