If You’re Lucky Enough

Dodge City, Kansas, 2017


When I was coming up with my Hugs and High5s itinerary, visiting Dodge City wasn’t anywhere on the list. However, as I sat in a Wichita, Kansas café where everyone I encountered was extremely—how do I say this?—less than enthusiastic about getting a hug, high-five or even a smile from me, I had to make a change.

And let me stop you before you think that some great amount of thought went into this decision; there wasn’t, I simply saw a ‘Visit Dodge City’ billboard on my way out of town. And I am so glad that I came across the sign, because I might have missed out on meeting one of the coolest guys on my trip.

The cool guy I am speaking of is a 97-year-old Dodge City resident named Bill. He and I happened to meet at The Boot Hill Museum, where you essentially step back in time to stroll the streets as they were in the 1800s and do everything from watching staged gunfights to meeting some actors who impersonate the guys who tamed the old west to seeing the local jail that housed some of the more unruly cowboys of the day.

Bill and I met at the Dodge City Saloon, and through a conversation about our lives and travels he revealed that he had been slated to be a part of WWII’s D-Day invasion of Normandy on Day One—but hours before the storming of the beaches, he was pulled out of his rank and file by his supervising officer and told that he was being held back for Day Two of the battle.

Bill shared that he didn’t think too much about the decision at the time and figured that he would find out why he was chosen to be pulled out later on, but that moment never happened, because within hours of that decision, all of his comrades and their commanding officer were killed.

“I am alive because of that decision,” he calmly said.

With no explanation as to why he was spared, the decision tormented him a bit, and he was forced to “figure things out” on his own. After a few years, he said, he concluded that life boils down to one simple thing: If you are lucky enough to get another day, use it.

He said that this outlook simplified his life greatly, and brought him peace as well as an ability to find a way through problems that would have previously stopped him.

It was a great conversation, but just as I was settling in to listen to more stories, he told me that he was tired and that he’d given me enough. “Now go and hug some people, but take it easy on ‘em—you’re a strong man.”

I hugged him again, and as we parted, he repeated his credo: If you are lucky enough.

David Hale SylvesterComment