John O’Leary shares how get unstuck and move boldly into 2021.
“Push away from the spot where you’re stuck to move toward a new destination, perspective.”
It is my hope for you to embrace all the hope and joy that are possible in your new year. Please allow this excerpt from my #1 national bestselling book IN AWE to help you see the truth that the possibilities before you are endless, if only you look… (chapter 1, page 5)
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“I’d always dreamed of playing professionally for the St. Louis Cardinals. I just knew that one day I’d put on that uniform, take the field, and play for my beloved hometown team. Those were my dreams at age nine. Similar to the aspirations of other young children. We didn’t yet know to be realistic with our goals.
Yet even a child knows when it’s time to awaken to a grim reality. The fire had robbed me of that dream forever. I’d never hold a baseball. I’d never play for the Cardinals or wear the St. Louis uniform. Painful as that fact was, I took solace in one beneficial aspect of my injuries: at least I’d never have to take a piano lesson again. There is a silver lining to every cloud, people!
So why on earth was Mrs. Bartello here?
Mom approached my wheelchair, bent down, and released the brakes. She reversed my wheelchair away from the kitchen table and pushed me down the hallway into our family room. “Mom, where are you taking me?”
…Instead [of answering], Mom humbly, bravely, lovingly pushed me away from the spot where I’d been stuck in the kitchen and moved me toward a new destination, a new perspective…
She rolled me to the piano, relatched the brakes, and calmly told Mrs. Bartello she’d be in the kitchen if we needed anything. She then walked out of the room, stranding me alone with Mrs. Bartello…
Then, as if nothing had changed in my life in the five months since she’d last seen me, Mrs. Bartello pulled out the sheet music for a song I’d been learning for my mom. Back then, I had fingers but little desire to use them to play piano. That lack of desire remained and was a hurdle we’d have to leap over together. But, of course, now it was far from the only one.
Looking back, I am amazed that Mrs. Bartello, and my mother, had the audacity to think it was possible. How do you even begin to teach a young boy with no fingers to play the piano? Aren’t fingers a prerequisite?
…I felt totally useless and utterly confused about what we could possibly do together. But somehow, for some reason, Mrs. Bartello was undeterred…”
She took out a pencil and a rubber band from her purse. She wrapped the rubber band around my right “glove,” binding the pencil to the end of my bandages. With this single pencil protruding from my right hand, Mrs. Bartello instructed me to begin playing the notes on that sheet of paper.
What followed was the longest thirty minutes of my life.
As I listlessly hit the piano keys with the pencil, I remember distinctly thinking: I hate my mom.
I could not believe she was making me take piano lessons in the condition I was in. The only good that came out of it was that eventually the lesson ended. At least I’d never have to do that again, I thought.
Which was true. Until the following Tuesday, when the doorbell rang again. Mrs. Bartello came back . . . and came back the Tuesday after that. For five freaking years of Tuesdays!
Gradually, painfully, begrudgingly, note by note, a bewildered boy with no fingers, with ostensibly no chance of returning to life as it once was, learned to play the piano. First with a single pencil bound to the bandage on his right hand. Then one bound to his left. As the wrappings were removed, I learned to play with the tips of my knuckles and by rolling my palm, creating makeshift chords with the parts of my hands that remained.
Looking back on those Tuesdays, I realize that Mrs. Bartello and my mom weren’t simply teaching me the piano. They had no expectations that I’d perform at a recital or enter any competitions.
They were developing something more important than musical ability.
By releasing the brakes on my wheelchair and by pushing me toward a goal that seemed unattainable, by seeing potential and hope where any reasonable person would see only disability and despair, they delivered a message, without speaking a word, that I needed to hear and to heed.
“John, this fire may have robbed you of your fingers. But it did not take your life! You will not act as if it has.”
She continued, “You possess the power to do what today seems impossible. You will confront hurdles in your life. You will face difficulties. You will need to come up with innovative ways to overcome the challenges that lie ahead. Things will be different than we had planned. But in time, things will be better than you can even imagine.”
My friends, that was a vital message that I needed to hear as a young boy, struggling with uncertainty and self-doubt, facing seemingly overwhelming physical limitations.
And I’m convinced it’s a message many of us would benefit from hearing and heeding today as we begin our New Year. Though the circumstances might look different – a life-threatening house fire and 2020 the year dubbed “dumpster fire” – I believe that feeling of impossibility and being overwhelmed is something we’re all facing right now.
Rather than shaking your head, crossing your arms, giving up, and canceling the piano lesson, I challenge you look up, uncross your arms, and embrace both the adversity and possibility within this day.
Let’s stop idly looking backward and start confidently stepping forward. Let’s acknowledge the journey is not easy, but it possible. And let’s celebrate that the vaccine is working, the days are lengthening, and the best is yet to come.
This is your day. Live Inspired.