Focusing on the past is not a natural tendency for me. Yes, I love seeing old photos and remembering fun moments along the way, but most of my thoughts and activities are spent focusing on the future. According to all the professional personality profile and work style assessments, I’m naturally wired to think future. What that also means is that I’m not the best at thinking in the present.
This morning, Facebook offered more than my typical scroll through cute photos, inspirational quotes, and political rubbish. Thanks to the On This Day feature, I was suddenly staring at a memory that holds a special place in my life. Somewhat of a mile marker that I can now look back and see where the journey took a slow but purposeful turn. It stirs up warm tears for many reasons. At the heart of my tears is this young man in the photo.
At the time this picture was taken, I was working for the IHG Owners Association, an incredibly dedicated and influential group of hotel owners and operators volunteering their time and talents towards collaborating and advocating for owners. It amazes me to look back and see the amount of time these leaders volunteered to the association on top of running their businesses and living a life. The association supports Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit resort in Central Florida that provides weeklong, cost-free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. On this occasion, we were volunteering with our Board of Directors to activate a more experiential understanding of this beautiful place we were supporting and asking our thousands of members worldwide to support.
For the evening of volunteer time, we were divided up to engage in different areas of the resort. Some people were serving food, some were painting tattoos and nails, and some were preparing for a talent show. The atmosphere was so magical, and it was easy to forget we were serving families who have no promise of a tomorrow with their child. They were living in the present and soaking in every moment of magic the village offered. I was assigned to an area that was hosting kids for the night while their parents had a night out. What I now understand that I did not know then is that a life-threatening illness takes a huge toll on all members of a family and especially a marriage. The volunteers for this area lined up, and as the kids arrived, they were allowed to select the volunteer they wanted. It was so heartwarming to see their eyes light up as they scanned the faces of volunteers and decided who to pick. After I was passed over a few times, I was starting to feel a little inferior. Then, this young man in the photo arrived, and he chose me! So off we went to explore all the games and fun activities the village offered. Honestly, this place is like something you would dream about as a child–games, ice cream, candy, lots of bright colors, happy music, smiling adults and never being told no.
What I learned over the next 4 hours of that evening had such a profound impact on my heart. This young man (who was the same age as my children at the time) did not want to play games or be entertained. He just wanted to talk. He talked for 4 hours, and my words cannot capture the beauty and brilliance this little guy carried. He talked about everything from movies, to school to science to his life story. Hearing him talk so plainly about his life with not one ounce of bitterness just shattered my heart and shook me to the core. Beyond his battle with a brain tumor, he had a tough life. What he had faced in life even before the illness was more than I could imagine bearing. Yet, here he is sitting in front of me just enjoying the conversation with great enthusiasm. Later that evening I met his dad and when I shook his hand and looked into his eyes, I will never forget seeing the pain, the anguish, and the fear of living in the unknown. I can see his eyes now and will never forget them.
The night ended with a talent show and then just as quickly as the day had started it ended. We said goodbye, and I knew I would never see him again. I felt so thankful for meeting him yet so empty and longing to listen to him talk more. The truth is I felt helpless. The bus ride back to our hotel was long and silent although a lot of talking was happening around me. All the thoughts were slowly unraveling in my head. The first thought was around why. Why did this child have to endure a painful start to life and now face the terrible odds with this illness? Why him, why not me? Why not someone else that deserved punishment for evil? Yes, I thought it all. The why had no answer that could satisfy my feeling of helplessness.
As the days and weeks after this beautiful encounter unfolded my longing for a concrete why turned into a desire to do more, love more and give more. I had no idea I was on the threshold of some major changes, but this experience prepared me for the journey. Seeking the why is not always about the external factors. Seeking why is most powerful when it’s rooted and sprouts from the internal. I stopped asking why and starting asking what am I supposed to do with this experience and let my heart lead the why. In fact, I continually seek the answer to that question because our purpose expands and shifts. The world has a lot of brokenness that doesn’t have an explanation, but we have the ability to make it a better place.
So today I smile and feel a little emotional. This young man may never know what an impact he made, and I hope to have an opportunity to give him a big hug and tell him one day. Wherever you are, I hope the sun is shining brightly upon you!
- Don’t miss what’s happening in the present. We are not promised tomorrow and the past is behind us.
- Something beautiful could be happening right in front of you and it could change your life.
- Sometimes the things that look scary, ugly or messy end up being the most beautiful thing you will ever experience.
- Someone needs you. You have unique gifts that someone needs.
- The people around you have a purpose in your life. Don’t miss what they offer.
- Sometimes you just need to listen.
- Even a brief encounter with a person can have a lasting impact. Don’t miss the opportunities to talk to someone you may not know.
- Seek your why and let it grow from your heart to reach others.
Jill Ellis, Director at iResponze and enjoys shaking up the landscape and never finds a goal too outrageous or a challenge too big. When she’s not helping her clients achieve their goals, she loves spending time with her family and managing her teenagers’ busy schedules. iResponze® partners with hotels by responding to online reviews on their behalf. This collaboration allows staff to focus on what they do best – delivering exceptional guest experiences.