The man said he was conscious and aware the entire time, as he lay on the floor of the nightclub and felt his skin melting off his body. He was one of the victims of the infamous nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003 and he had been asked to come up to the stage and speak at the recent business seminar I attended.
Since 2003, he has had more than 100 operations to correct the burns all over his body and restore functionality. His face looked as if it had been largely reconstructed. He wore sunglasses because his eyes were so sensitive to light. He had just had a hand implant, the other one was a disfigured stub. He walked with a limp.
And yet here he was, speaking to 300 business professionals who were not disabled, about how to be positive, determined and disciplined in business and hopeful in life no matter what one’s circumstances.
This man had been through hell. By all accounts, from the outside it seemed his life still was a hell, littered with continual operations, limited functionality, and people staring at him wherever he went.
But he seemed to have more soul, a lighter spirit, and more intense determination than anyone else in the room. In fact, when asked what kind of people he was looking to do business with, he said, “I’m looking for people who want to push me off a cliff, because I can take it.”
Last night I had a really rough night. I was feeling really sick and I tossed and turned for hours. Every time I woke up I found myself thinking about him.
It’s been said that the fastest way to rob yourself of happiness is to compare yourself to others who seem to have more than you. Happiness is largely relative. But the inverse is also true.
When we feel sorry for ourselves, I find that there’s no quicker and more efficient path to gratitude than to compare ourselves to people whose circumstances are worse than ours.
Sometimes we are exposed to someone who has handled their fate with such grace and empowerment that just knowing about them is an inspiration that we can carry with us. Their choice to embrace the light becomes a gift for all those around them willing to receive it.
It’s very easy to get caught up in our own suffering. “No one understands how hard it is for me!” we say to ourselves. Our internal dialogue is often the site of high drama and self-indulgence. I’m certainly guilty of that.
But the truth is we all suffer. And we can all make the choice to indulge in that suffering or to choose to put our attention on the things that are good in our lives. It’s not easy to do – especially when we’re in physical discomfort and physical or emotional pain – but it is possible.
If we choose to focus on the good in our lives, we are choosing happiness. I recall thinking, as I watched the man with the burns all over his body speak to me and the others in the audience, that if it was possible for him to choose happiness then I had no excuse.