We met her on our first night in the Cook Islands.
No sleep during the 6 hour overnight flight left us so tired, even 2 naps during the day wasn’t enough. We decided to have dinner at what we always jokingly call “nana-o’clock” (aka 6pm) so we could have an early night.
We were about half way through our meal when she arrived. She sat at an adjacent table and quietly ordered her meal.
Over the next few minutes, she said hello to everyone who caught her eye; it was obvious everyone had noticed the dignified, older woman eating dinner in a romantic, candle-lit restaurant on a tropical island by herself. Eventually we started chatting. Little did we know the story that would unfold and the life lessons that would follow.
Her name was Dorothy. Soon she pulled up a chair and joined us at our table. She told us that she and her husband had travelled the world together for the last 40 years.
That she had wanted to come to the Cook Islands ever since she got the tourism brochure back in 1993 (which she still has). But it was never a destination that appealed to her husband so they never came.
That her husband passed away earlier in the year in their cabin on a cruise ship while it was docked in port in Spain.
That they had promised each other if one of them were to pass away, the survivor would continue their love of travelling.
That in the 8 months since her husband’s death, she had been to Tuscany with her daughter and France with a friend.
And that she was 81.
Yes, our amazing dinner guest booked her ticket (which she did on the internet by herself she proudly told us), packed her bags and travelled half way around the world from her home in England to the tiny Pacific island at the age of 81 - by herself. I remember how nervous I felt travelling alone overseas for the first time; I can’t imagine how it must have felt to be travel by herself after having travelling with her husband for so many years.
Her passion, enthusiasm for life, extroverted nature, sheer joy for life, lack of reserve and absolute candour made what we thought was going to be a quiet, eat-quickly-so-we-can-get-some-sleep dinner into one of the highlights of my trip. I was sad to say goodbye to Dorothy that night.
The next morning I said in passing to my husband “I wonder what Dorothy is doing today?”. I didn’t have to wait long to find out! After lunch, we were wandering down the beach - and there she was, talking to another couple.
She called out to us, remembering my husband’s nickname, and we got chatting again. She told us about the adventure she had had that morning - it involved a walk along the beach, learning a traditional Polynesian dance and ultimately being invited to perform said dance with her new friends (who, it turns out, were rehearsing on the beach that morning) at a local Church (it was Sunday after all).
Not one to fear anything it seems, she accepted the invitation, climbed into a mini-van with her new friends, went to the church, performed the dance and stayed for morning tea afterwards.
We saw her a few more times over the following days, at the markets or on the beach, always chatting to people and making new friends.
In the weeks since our trip, I’ve often thought to myself “I wonder what Dorothy is up to?”. She is one of those people who cross your path ever so briefly but still manage to touch your heart deeply.
Dorothy reminds me that life is an incredible adventure to be lived to the fullest.
That there are no excuses when you make your mind up to accomplish something.
That you should chase your goals in life because you are “a long time dead” (her words).
That you need to ignore the “shoulds” and instead do what brings you joy.
That there are amazing adventures waiting if you say “yes” to the opportunities presented to you.
I still wonder where Dorothy is and what other adventures she has enjoyed in the months since we met. I’ll never know the answer - but I will keep asking myself “What would Dorothy do?”.