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“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia

Ever notice sometimes the ‘smallest’ things can get us through the most difficult times?

While speaking last week to a healthcare leadership team, I was asked what was the most difficult aspect of my time as a patient in the hospital. My mind raced to bandage changes, physical therapy, skin grafts and other tortures burn patients endure on their path to recovery.

However, that’s not what I shared. It was something that seemed benign, yet was the most agonizing. Let me explain.

Being raised in a family of six kids, and the only early riser, most mornings I’d jump out of bed, get on one of my single-colored sweat suits, tiptoe down the hall, sneak into my parents’ room, climb on their bed, and wedge myself between them. I loved to cuddle and nothing was better than being sandwiched between mom and dad.

After being burned, I spent five months in the hospital bed attached to various devices to track and stabilize my recovery. It was a scary time, but the most difficult aspect wasn’t the pain or anxiety of what was to come, but the reality that I was not able to be cuddled or hugged by my parents.

And yet, the very thing I longed for most became my greatest source of motivation.

Sure there were other motivators: professional announcer Jack Buck who promised “John O’Leary Day at the ballpark;” NHL player Gino Cavelini who promised to take me to the St. Louis Blues locker room; and my grandfather who promised me a television for my bedroom (unheard of in our family). While these were all wonderful, the ultimate motivator was far more simple, inexpensive and stirring.

In my hospital room hung a simple calendar with the current month and date on it. One afternoon my parents circled a date – many weeks out – we felt would be the day I could finally go home. That calendar provided a clear goal and a reason to strive forward. Each day they’d come into my hospital room in the morning, kiss me on my forehead, ask about my night, and then walk over to the wall, rip off yesterday’s date and move us a day closer to going home and being able to cuddle!

When the day we’d circled on the wall calendar finally arrived, my parents came into the hospital room with a wheelbarrow filled with Champagne destined for the staff; they left pushing a little boy in a wheelchair destined for home.

That night after dinner, my dad tenderly carried me up the steps. He walked me down the hallway I used to tiptoe down each morning. He set me gently on the bed I used to leap onto. Mom and Dad sandwiched me from both sides and we ate popcorn, sipped sodas and watched a movie.

There were still bandages. There were still surgeries to endure. But as popcorn and soda filled my mouth, the unmistakable feeling of being home cuddled and loved filled my heart. It’s an evening and celebration I’ll never forget.

(I haven’t thought of that night in decades! But my current Live Inspired Podcast episode with Sergeant Rocky Sickmann reminded me of it. Rocky was held hostage in Iran for 444 days beginning in 1979. This humble man and historic figure shares what kept him going: Faith, family, and longing for freedom…and daydreaming about mornings back home when his mom made pancakes. Turns out the little things seldom are! Listen to the interview with Rocky here.)

My friends, too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

Don’t overlook the little stuff. The morning cuddles, pancakes and people we share them with are too frequently taken for granted in the race through the day. [Tweet this] | [Share on Facebook]

Today I challenge you to speak, listen and perform small acts that just might transform the life of someone else.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

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