By John O'Leary. This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O'Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. John's first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.
Every day offers the same opportunity: To invest in activities, efforts, work and conversations that build others up or choose attitudes, words and actions that push others down.
Our choice not only profoundly influences how we feel about this life, but also the lives of those around us.
Although it’s been more than five months since I’ve flown, many of my past experiences travelling, in airports and working on the road continue to influence me.
Years ago, I was settling into my seat, buckling up, getting out a snack, setting up my laptop, and stuffing my journal into the seat pocket (yes, I have the travel needs of a 4 year old!), I overheard an unusual conversation a row behind me.
An elderly-sounding woman shared with the person next to her that this was her first trip since the death of her husband. She mentioned she was nervous to travel, but was looking forward to talking with someone on the trip.
The gentleman responded curtly, “Lady, I am really sorry to hear about your husband. But, I am using this flight for sleeping, not talking.”
Now, I am not judging the man. My flights are reserved for working, reading and writing. But something in her voice spoke to me. It reminded me of the many times I’ve needed someone to talk to; or the times a friend has wanted to share something with me.
Do this one thing to find more meaning in your life.
Finally set up and ready to tackle my to-do list, I shut the laptop, turned around and asked the gentleman if he wouldn’t mind changing seats with me.
The next 2 hours and 10 minutes I received a spoken memoir from a new friend named Helen.
She shared about her impoverished childhood, unlikely marriage, experiences during World War II and raising her children. Her stories of sleepless nights, happy times and intense losses held deep truths about the agony of death, power of faith and gift of love.
She shared of losing two of her four children to separate accidents, a grandchild to AIDS, and most recently, a husband to heart failure. She shared not for attention or pity, but to impart the wisdom that in spite of the innumerable challenges of life, the journey forges us into the individuals we are perfectly intended to become.
Hours earlier I left the comfort of my seat and the work I wanted to accomplish to switch seats for her. As we landed, unbuckled our seat belts, stood and hugged goodbye, I realized it was actually entirely for me.
We all have so much to teach, and learn, when we make time for genuine connection with others.
Helen reminded me that it’s not in the doing and achieving we find success, but in the willingness to be present and open to possibilities.
Sometimes those possibilities reveal themselves in the least likely of places and people – like an older, lonely woman who just wanted to talk. A woman, if given the chance, could teach a lot about relationships, marriage, children, war, peace, family, faith, and death. And what it means to actually live.
My friend, these are difficult times. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of negativity and believe there have never been days as challenging as these. It’s all too common to feel that the best days are behind us and we are isolated – even when we are surrounded by others.
That’s why it is more important than ever to remember the way you get meaning in your life: Devote yourself to loving others, to your community around you and to striving to make a difference.
There are innumerable opportunities to live like this, yet we must shut off the media, step away from the negativity, get out of our comfort zone and open ourselves up to first see them, and then to ultimately learn from someone else.
Perhaps it’s time to unbuckle and switch seats.
This is your day. Live Inspired.
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