Everybody loves a good story. The right story at the right time may have changed
the way you look at the world or even altered the course of your life. Often,
hearing someone else’s story of overcoming difficulties inspires us to find
the courage to overcome our own.
I recently called Jimmy Kaercher, a longtime family friend and the editor of the newspaper in Ortonville, the western Minnesota town where my dad grew up. To my surprise, Jimmy, who was about to turn 78, told me he was in the hospital. Nine weeks earlier, his colon had burst and he had nearly died. He woke up to find that he had received a colostomy. It was a difficult recovery and he confided in me that there were days when he wished he hadn’t awakened from surgery.
But then he had read Jim MacLaren’s story in my new book, Sixty Seconds: One Minute Changes Everything. I had sent him a copy a few months before. He said MacLaren’s story had inspired him to keep fighting, that if MacLaren, now a motivational speaker, was able to keep his spirits up after enduring two horrific accidents that rendered him first an amputee, and then a quadriplegic, then maybe he didn’t have it so bad after all.
Indeed, MacLaren’s story has inspired thousands of people. This excerpt from his story still amazes me:
"Even though both accidents were devastating at the time, I now view them as gifts and not tragedies. People often tell me things like, "You have such an amazing attitude," but there’s just never been a thought in me about, Boy, if I was just the way I used to be, I wouldn’t be going through all this. It’s always been, Okay, here’s a new challenge; let me figure it out, let me face it. For me, the journey has always been about going deeper and becoming more of a human being.
"Somehow we were brought up to believe that life is fair, and that if we’re good, then it’s all going to always be good. But stuff happens. Is it fair what’s happened to me? No, of course not. So what? I still have to get up in the morning. It’s not about overcoming adversity, it’s about living with adversity."
What Jimmy didn’t know was that MacLaren, whom I had befriended while working with him on his story, was facing yet another challenge. A couple months earlier, he had been sitting on his front porch when a gust of wind blew his front door open, knocking him out of his wheelchair. He lay sprawled on the porch for two hours until his attendant showed up. The next day, MacLaren discovered that he had fractured his kneecap. Once in the hospital, he developed a septic blood infection. He not only felt miserable, the accident prevented him from working, which exacerbated his financial struggles. He was faced with the grim possibility that he would soon be unable to pay for full-time care, which he couldn’t live without. MacLaren, who everyone else looked to for inspiration, was questioning whether he had the strength to once again battle for his life against insurmountable odds.
Knowing all this, I e-mailed MacLaren to tell him how his story had inspired Jimmy. I included Jimmy’s contact info. When I called Jimmy the next day, he told me that MacLaren had sent him a supportive e-mail "from my hospital bed to yours." Jimmy was deeply touched.
So was I. MacLaren may have been down, but he wasn’t out. Even in the darkest of times, he found the compassion and the will to reach out to others, to offer a few kind words, to make a difference. A couple weeks later, a national sports-talk radio show that MacLaren often appeared on hosted a fund-raiser for him. He can now breathe a bit easier.
This simple story of two human beings connecting lifted both their spirits. It’s a reminder that spirituality is really about how you choose to relate to the people and the world around you. Eventually, we come to realize that every moment is a gift – and that what we do with it is our gift to ourselves, to others, and to the world.
Phil Bolsta will present a free class, "Change Your Thoughts and Change Your World," from 6:30-9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9, at Pathways, 3115 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis. Discover how affirmations can bring you peace, heal your life and strengthen your connection to the deep love. Come prepared to participate in a lively discussion of spiritual principles. For more information, call 612.822.9061 or visit www.pathwaysminneapolis.org. Phil Bolsta also will present a book reading at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, at Magers & Quinn Bookstore, 3038 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis. For more information, call 612.822.4611.