Hope everyone is doing well!
I wanted to share a quick, personal story about my life, which I think might help inspire you, and which helped change the course of my life.
When I was a boy, I used to love to be in the woods. I loved to explore them and play in them with friends. But on one fall day about this time of year — probably about two weeks earlier — I was in the woods alone on a beautiful day and lost track of time.
And I was sitting there on a comfortable ledge, pretty high up on the side of a hill, just watching the woods. Back then, I could watch squirrels or chipmunks (or a deer if I was lucky) for hours without being bored, and that’s what I was searching for on that day.
But there was nothing moving, even once I sat down and got quiet. It’s really rare that no animals are out moving, and as a matter of fact, it’s the only time I can recall it happening to me — and I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the woods.
But back to the story, on that day there was nothing moving. No squirrels. No chipmunks. No birds or crows that I can remember, though surely there were some.
Zero. Zilch. Nada.
On this day, I was alone in these wide-open woods. A young boy, sitting on a ledge, watching leaves fall to the ground. And as I sat there, I lost track of time. I was mesmerized by the woods before me, as leaf-after-leaf drifted down.
The entire time, I anxiously waited to see something spring or prance by, but nothing did, and in about a three-hour time period, I can’t tell you how many leaves I watched drift and descend to the ground. Literally thousands, if I had to guess.
Most of them were brown and scarcely discernible from those around them, and they fell fairly quickly and predictably. But every now and then, in my trance-like state, I noticed one that wasn’t brown. Sometimes a yellow one. Or perhaps a red one. Even a couple of purple ones.
These leaves that stood out instantly caught my (bored) eye, and I’d watch them descend while ignoring their brown peers that dropped around them.
And sometimes, a vivid red or yellow one would be shaped in just a way that allowed it to catch small wisps of wind and float sideways as they arced to the ground. Even rarer, sometimes one would be so perfectly aerodynamic that it’d glide far and almost lift up with small winds that bounced along the ground.
For hours I sat captivated by these leaves of all colors, and their varying flight paths and trajectories. But by the end, I could only recall a few that had fallen. Perhaps a couple dozen out of literally hundreds and hundreds that I had watched.
And as I came out of my almost meditative state, prompted by hunger and a stark reality I had stayed out too long, a shocking realization hit me: we are all leaves.
We all fall, our lives brief.
Mostly, we’re barely noticed. Certainly not remembered.
But I had noticed some of those unique leaves that day. I had remembered their form and color, and the path they had taken. And it instantly hit me that I didn’t want to be a brown leave that fell straight down, same as every other leaf.
I wanted to be yellow or purple! I wanted to glide and float and lift with the wind! I wanted to land a hundred yards from the tree from which I fell, not right below it!
I wanted some young boy to see me and take note! To smile and remember me, and make his own mind up to be a little different and memorable.
And from that day — I was thirteen — I swore to myself I’d do all I could to maximize whatever potential I had. Up to that point, I did things to please my parents and others. But after that magical day in the woods, I did things for me. I felt called to move toward greatness, and the Marine Corps fit my picture of what a great, young man would aspire to at that time.
Later, I’d feel that same call to become a journalist. And still later, an entrepreneur who launched a newspaper. Finally, I’d grow courageous enough to attempt the impossible mountain of becoming a full-time author.
I share these words, this story of mine, because I feel confident that there is at least one of you out there who harbors some dream, as well, and I hope my small story will help inspire you to pursue it as vigorously (and responsibly) as you can. (Additional motivation for those with just such a dream: Find true happiness: announce your dreams to the world today.)
But this post isn’t just meant for the dreamers who have some burning fire inside their soul.
It’s my very strong belief that all of us can be memorable, despite trying work and life demands. All of us can be red or purple, soaring through the sky like the wind.
A great example of this is one of the most remarkable men I ever crossed paths with. I first met him when I was working part-time at a completely depressing manufacturing plant while I was in college. I don’t remember his name now, much to my chagrin, but he was a jolly man from the inner city.
So many people quit at that plant within hours or days of being hired that you didn’t bother getting to know the new ones, especially those assigned to parts inspection where I worked. But this smiling man was assigned to our station and my buddy and I watched him with great interest on his first day. We wanted to see how fast he’d break — same as so many others before him.
But this man just smiled and sang to himself, and whistled away that first day. He did all this real low and to himself. Not a pest at all, like some of the singers and whistlers out there!
The job required you to lift with your fingers these really heavy airbag cylinders, all of which were soaked in some kind of toxic who knows what. And if you were good, you’d do two per hand and work your way up to three or four or even five.
All the work was timed and each hour crawled by like a mini-lifetime. I kid you not, there was never a day (or even two-hour sprint until we could get a 15-min break) that I didn’t nearly quit.
Your fingers ached, the oil did weird stuff to your skin, and your clothes were ruined nearly every day. But Mr. Jolly New Man survived the first day, and left with a smile and almost a skip in his step — really remarkable given he was mid-fifties or early sixties, and the work was pretty grueling.
But day-after-day, it was the same. Mr. Jolly New Man came in as if he had the greatest job in the world, quickly volunteering for the worst parts of the job.
“Oh, it’s not too bad,” he’d say with a smile as he grabbed another crate to take the load off a weaker worker.
We soon learned he was poor, had no family, and rode the bus to work because he didn’t have a car. (And for my northern readers, let me assure you that in the South, you almost have to have a car. Public transportation practically doesn’t exist.)
Mr. Jolly New Man wouldn’t say much about where he lived, but it was my strong impression he lived in the projects. As we grew to be friends with him, we learned he’d never take any form of assistance. No ride home, even if the bus wouldn’t arrive for another hour. No ride down to the gas station for a snack after work, which was a mile away.
No, he’d rather walk it, even in a downpour.
My buddy and I were finishing up college, happily married, bright futures ahead of us, and at least thirty years younger, but I give you my word that this man was a 100x happier than us. (We were also, by the way, both spiritual and optimistic, happy people in our own right, but we sure didn’t measure up to him.)
Mr. Jolly New Man couldn’t work circles around us — we were both studs — but he held his own and surpassed us by miles with his attitude. We complained about having to be there and what better jobs were out there. He didn’t mind working late, even off the clock if it helped the boss. Or sweeping up afterward. Or tackling a couple more crates.
His attitude was unlike any attitude I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve met some go getters in my day.
Additionally, his countenance was not of this world, and his smile and laughter was infectious. Never has such an imperfect smile been so perfect. Or perhaps he’d forgotten his smile wasn’t perfect?
My buddy and I would try to talk news with him, but he’d ease his way out of the conversation. He didn’t want to talk politics, the economy, or a hundred other things that might kill that incredible attitude and smile of his.
Asked his thoughts on any of this, he’d usually smile real big and say, “Oh, I don’t know,” and pat you on the shoulder if his hands weren’t covered in grease.
Love just poured from the man, and surprisingly, though we learned he was Christian, he never talked about his views or pushed his religion.
He lived his religion, and it was one of the most beautiful sights to behold. A near modern-day Jesus who had no cares for money or security or any of the other things we all worry about so much.
To this day, I can say that few people have influenced me as much as this man. He wasn’t some decorated Marine. Not some kind of big-time author or famous person you hear so much about.
He was just a man who stood out, every single day of his life, like the yellow and purple leaves that floated down to the ground back when I was a boy.
I have told dozens of people about this man in the past twenty years, and I’ll bet every person that’s worked with him has done the same.
My point in this much too-long blogpost is that all of us can be like this man, striving to stand out more, to be more beautiful and memorable and inspiring.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you just never know who’s watching, or how much you will shape their lives for years to come.
In closing, I hope this small story of my life has in some small way sparked yours. Feel free to share it, of course, if it has.
Keep the faith, and be more beautiful!