By Scott Westerman
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” ~William James
Abel looked at me from behind a mask. He could hardly breathe. One of my favorite Comcast technical supervisors had cheated death. But his doctors had just told him he would always need an oxygen tank. He would never run another 10K, let alone chase down the bad guys as he had done just two weeks earlier as a volunteer police officer. One week prior, he lay in intensive care and his family was being asked if he had a will. Just making it home was a miracle.
“I’m not sure how I’ll go on,” he told me, his voice barely above a whisper. “They say it could be just a matter of time before another infection could take me out.”
I looked at the corner of Abel’s living room in the house he and Judy shared together. “I think it will fit right there,” I said.
“The treadmill we’re going to use to get you off of this oxygen tank and back into the game.”
Able was one of the best role models for the follow through and personal service that had helped take us to the top of the customer satisfaction rankings. As a police officer, his compassionate approach had literally changed lives at that frightening fork in the road where the two pathways are reform or a jail sentence.
“You’ve already made a huge difference in many lives, Abel. We’re going to make sure you can do the same thing for many more.”
Fast forward two and a half years. I’m sitting across from Abel and Judy at the Owl Cafe in Albuquerque. Able let us put that treadmill in his living room. Slowly and painfully he fought his way back to freedom from the iron canister his doctors said would always be connected to his lungs. He moved from the treadmill to the asphalt, staggering a few steps at first but slowly rebuilding his strength and finding his wind. In time he returned to a desk job at Comcast. But that wasn’t enough. Abel kept pushing himself until he was back at full strength, inspiring his team mates and chasing bad guys. He married Judy and took her to Spain and Portugal to celebrate. Even though he still sometimes feels a little weak, Able now regularly outdistances me on the track. To look at him, you would never know how close he came to dying.
But Able remembers. “I love being able to help people,” he told me, between bites of our western omelets. “Wanting to keep making a difference was what pushed me to get better.”
In our darkest moments, we’re prone to think that our existence is both brief and insignificant. The world throws obstacles in our path and it sometimes seems like our hopes will always remain unfulfilled. It can feel like there are dozens of others who contribute more, are better than we are at the jobs we do, outpacing us on every lap. And then come the naysayers. They ridicule our dreams and diminish our accomplishments.
But if you think carefully, I’m certain that there is at least one person who is a better person because you crossed their path. Each of us contribute to the river of life, whether we realize it or not. It’s often the smallest ripples that have the biggest impact. You don’t have to be Mother Theresa to make a difference. A kind word, a listening ear, some thoughtful feedback; all of these are the building blocks of self esteem. Their antonyms are negativity, aloofness and allowing unproductive behaviors to continue.
We live in a world that is rife with negativity. It’s not the big things that offset it. It’s the little things.
Take a moment to day to look back over your life. Remember those little things you did to help and inspire someone else. My guess is that you can fill at least a page with examples.
And you probably did it all without thinking.
For the next week, be conscious of what you do and say to others. Look for opportunities to perpetrate random acts of kindness. Don’t wait for a major health crisis to learn the lesson Able now teaches. Be that ripple that can change a river.
Yours is an important and meaningful existence. You are here for a reason. You have already made a difference in someone else’s life. Go do it again!