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John O’Leary writes about the difficult times we’re experiencing and how it’s easy to get stuck in the negativity. He shares what it means to actually live and offers one simple thing to reestablish meaning in your life.

“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you and devote yourself to creating something that gives purpose and meaning.”  – Mitch Albom 

Every day offers the same opportunity: To invest in activities, efforts, work and conversations that build others up or choose attitudes, words and actions that push others down.

Our choice not only profoundly influences how we feel about this life, but also the lives of those around us.

Although it’s been more than five months since I’ve flown, many of my past experiences travelling, in airports and working on the road continue to influence me.

Years ago, I was settling into my seat, buckling up, getting out a snack, setting up my laptop, and stuffing my journal into the seat pocket (yes, I have the travel needs of a 4 year old!), I overheard an unusual conversation a row behind me.

An elderly-sounding woman shared with the person next to her that this was her first trip since the death of her husband.  She mentioned she was nervous to travel, but was looking forward to talking with someone on the trip.

The gentleman responded curtly, “Lady, I am really sorry to hear about your husband. But, I am using this flight for sleeping, not talking.”

Now, I am not judging the man.  My flights are reserved for working, reading and writing. But something in her voice spoke to me. It reminded me of the many times I’ve needed someone to talk to; or the times a friend has wanted to share something with me.

Do this one thing to find more meaning in your life.

Finally set up and ready to tackle my to-do list, I shut the laptop, turned around and asked the gentleman if he wouldn’t mind changing seats with me.

The next 2 hours and 10 minutes I received a spoken memoir from a new friend named Helen.

She shared about her impoverished childhood, unlikely marriage, experiences during World War II and raising her children. Her stories of sleepless nights, happy times and intense losses held deep truths about the agony of death, power of faith and gift of love.

She shared of losing two of her four children to separate accidents, a grandchild to AIDS, and most recently, a husband to heart failure. She shared not for attention or pity, but to impart the wisdom that in spite of the innumerable challenges of life, the journey forges us into the individuals we are perfectly intended to become.

Hours earlier I left the comfort of my seat and the work I wanted to accomplish to switch seats for her. As we landed, unbuckled our seat belts, stood and hugged goodbye, I realized it was actually entirely for me.

We all have so much to teach, and learn, when we make time for genuine connection with others.

Helen reminded me that it’s not in the doing and achieving we find success, but in the willingness to be present and open to possibilities.  Sometimes those possibilities reveal themselves in the least likely of places and people – like an older, lonely woman who just wanted to talk. A woman, if given the chance, could teach a lot about relationships, marriage, children, war, peace, family, faith, and death. And what it means to actually live.

My friend, these are difficult times. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of negativity and believe there have never been days as challenging as these. It’s all too common to feel that the best days are behind us and we are isolated – even when we are surrounded by others.

That’s why it is more important than ever to remember the way you get meaning in your life: Devote yourself to loving others, to your community around you and to striving to make a difference.  

There are innumerable opportunities to live like this, yet we must shut off the media, step away from the negativity, get out of our comfort zone and open ourselves up to first see them, and then to ultimately learn from someone else.

Perhaps it’s time to unbuckle and switch seats.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

40 replies on “Switching Seats”

I LOVE this! If we only took more time for others. Life is so short and we have so little time to listen to and connect with others. The whole purpose for life is to make the lives of others better. Thanks for taking the time and thanks for sharing your story!

This was a great way to start my Monday! I look forward to your messages each week. Thanks for the inspiration you provided to Schaumburg teachers on Friday!

Jen — If you are one of those Dist54 teachers, thank YOU….and if you’re not, tell them THANK YOU! They were a delight and it is an honor to be part of the 54 family! Have a great day — and start to the year — John

Freida: YES!!! Now more than ever….so many feel so lost and so isolated … one person, one conversation, one act of love can make a difference…. Thanks for being part of that impact — John

SHE was the example to me, Ellen …. Great teachers are everywhere. … and so is great goodness … we just need to be willing to switch seats to find it sometimes! 😉

Reading your new book IN AWE…in these challenging times your book helps keep me thankful and alive!! Thanks John!

Thanks Nick and hope you’re loving the book. Read the afterward …. the fact we are simply here should inspire and humble and light us up for each day.. …. Keep living it stay In Awe!

Good morning John, I miss seeing you. I recently passed your office on the way to my dentists, Drs Plahn – across the way from you. –I love your story. Yes, words create worlds (Abraham Herschel……not really our friend Don). You are so clearly speaking of the invite of healing presence. That story keeps echoing a message for you, which you are now sharing. I trust you and your family are well and happy and safe. Blessings!

Sr. Kathy — I love and respect you, my friend…..YOU live this message and have taught it to innumerable others….myself included. Continue boldly, thanks for being my friend and God’s blessing — John

Hello John, This is Tim Saunders with the NHSBCA. You spoke at our convention in St. Louis to our High School Baseball Coaches and your name still gets brought up as one of the best speakers we’ve ever had. Your motivational newsletters are something I look forward to every week. I have learned from so many over the years just like you did with this lady on the plane. Our association is doing well and we continue to get bigger but it is at a much slower pace than I anticipated when I took over as the Executive Director. Allis good though and I just wanted to say thank you for joining us St. Louis and thank you for what you do every day of your life. Inspire others in a positive and life changing way. Sincerely,
Tim Saunders. NHSBCA Executive Director

Brother Tim—- Absolutely remember meeting you and partnering with your amazing group. … I’ll never forget. YOU all touch lives profoundly through coaching…on and off the field. Thanks for the impact — it matters — so do you — John

John, you are such a kind and gentle soul! Talking with people like Helen is like getting a front row seat history lesson. That generation is dying off and we need to glean all we can from them!
More importantly, you took the time with a person who just wanted connection with another person. I fear with today’s technology we are losing that person to person connectivity. You “unplugged” so that you could “connect!”
Lovely…simply, lovely!
Enjoy your week, my friend!

Rebecca — Thank you. We think if we send a meme or an emoji or like a fired’s post or, if we are really committed, SHARE a friend’s post we have kept the relationship alive and well. … While it might be a wonderful way to keep it warm, we humans crave intimacy; we long for human contact, the presence of another, the love that can only be revealed through authentic relationship with another… Thank YOU for living this and reminding us of it — John

John, thank you for this inspiring message. Your words always paint pictures in my mind. I can see you on the airplane settling in and then witching sears to engage in a mist heartfelt and meaningful conversation. This is something we really need more than ever. As I read your introduction and concluding statement, I was immediately reminded of scripture—“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Like Jesus, you remind us to do just that. I often quote you in my Sunday messages. This is one for the retelling Thank you!

Sorry for typos. I should proofread before hitting the ‘SIN” button.
That was supposed to say “…and then switching seats to engage in a most meaningful Conversation.”
I tried to edit but there’s no option. So if you can, please make the corrections so the readers will know I wasn’t drunk—sleepy though—when I wrote it. Blessings!

Typos or not, I understood everything you wrote and appreciated it, Sandy — Thank you for LIVING this message — keep reaching across the aisle, keep loving your neighbor as yourself, and know that YOU make a difference — – John

When I was a young man working (at age 11) at a mink ranch, I learned many valuable lessons form the older men that worked there. Not all the lessons can be printed. Other than my parents I learned so very much from the older workers I grew up around. The most important one I learned and that I also told my boys was this: “it doesn’t matter what you choose to do in life but what does matter is that you do it to the best of your ability.” I spent my whole life in the metal working industry from age 20 until this very day (and still working at age 67) and started at the bottom of my trade and ended up a manufacturing manager. Now I am mentoring a younger man to replace me. I gave him some advice. Do it to the best of your ability!!

Tim — This is an amazing comment …. Thank you for sharing it …. and thank you for LIVING it. You, my friend, became the mentor to others who impacted your live growing up. What a gift! Continue boldly and thanks for all you do — J

Beautiful story. Completely agree. Stopping and smelling the roses or in this case…switching seats with another to provide comfort to and support of someone in need resulted in something much more meaningful and powerful. This beautiful story definitely helped to jumpstart my Monday! ❤️

Appreciate you sharing here, Kevin…. and LIVING it each day in your life, brother. Continue boldly — and stay in awe …. because the best is yet to come — John

Thank you for these inspiring and encouraging words, John!

May God give me opportunities today to unbuckle and switch seats. May God bless me with a willingness to be present and open to possibilities.

Jesus spoke these words on the night prior to His death on the cross for our sins: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34)

Carl …. one of the most beautiful passages of scripture … Thank you for sharing it … and for living it …. we need more Helen’s …. and Carl’s … who are unafraid to live LOVE. God bless — John

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