John O’Leary shares the gift he found in the silence after losing his voice to laryngitis and what it taught him about relationship.
Nearing the end of a hectic week of speaking events, it was obvious I was getting sick with a sinus infection.
What began as a raspy voice when I started the speech turned into a whisper by the end of it. By the time I got home that evening, my voice was completely gone. What started as a sinus infection, manifested into a double ear infection, lead to swollen, irritated throat and eventually total laryngitis.
My body ached, ears throbbed, swallowing was difficult, but for me the most difficult aspect was the total loss of speech.
The five things renowned speaker John O’Leary learned from losing his voice.
After about a week of being locked in total silence, though, as my voice continues to return there have been some unlikely and remarkable gifts discovered in losing my voice.
- Becoming far more grateful. Wife. Children. Family. Freedom. Faith. Community. Work that matters. Sunshine. Hot coffee. Cold beer. Life. Every day I begin by giving thanks for the undeserved and endless gifts present in my life. But I doubt I’ve ever even considered my voice as something for which I am supremely grateful. I went months without my voice as a child in hospital, have lost it several times as an adult due to Laryngitis, and still take it for granted. This time, forced silence allowed me to realize the gift of my voice and reminded me that it is just one of innumerable gifts I’ve received freely and overlooked completely.
- The joy of listening. Beth and I spend many mornings together on our screened-in porch having a coffee. We talk about our days, discuss kids’ schedules, and get on the same page for the week ahead. In the evening, we’ll escape from the chaos of the day to that same porch, have a glass of wine and talk about our days. That time, with that girl, on that porch is one of my highlights of each day. I often, though, find myself talking too much, responding too quickly, fixing rather than simply listening. This week, finally, I got it right. I listened deeply to what she said. Perhaps odd as it may seem, we had numerous great conversations this week. Turns out what a friend really needs is just an awesome listener.
- Increased intimacy in conversations. No, not that kind of intimacy! The intimacy I’m referring to is about coming closer, paying attention, looking for details, searching the heart of the other and truly connecting. It was best revealed in how my kids couldn’t look down at a screen, at television, or at the floor while speaking with me. These little ones had to read my lips, interpret my clicks, read into my facial reactions. They could not be passive in the conversation. And because of that we had a lot more time truly being together, truly connecting together and truly loving each other.
- Recognizing less is more. On Sunday night my parents, siblings and nieces and nephews came over to celebrate August birthdays. Near the end of the table I sat silently, observing kids running around, family visiting, my wife’s beauty and my mom’s joy. To my right, at the very head of the table, sat my dad. 30 years of Parkinson’s disease has made speaking difficult for dad; laryngitis made it impossible for me. So for more than an hour, we just sat by each other, seldom even feigning to communicate. Instead, a father and son savored the gift of family, of fun, of ice cream cake, of life. Words can sometimes cheapen moments such as these. Neither of us used any. It was perfect.
- A loyal friend. Anytime someone in the house would call my name I’d whistle so they could find me. It was the only way they could track down where I was. And as they came down to my office, or up to my bedroom, or into the family room, they were always the second friend to find me. The first was our loyal dog, Emma. For Emma, a whistle means someone wants to see her. A whistler means she is needed immediately. So every time for a week that dog heard me whistle, she’d drop her bone or rise from her nap and race to be near me. With a tail wagging she’d come rest at my side. It was yet another unexpected gift of not being able to use my voice.
Don’t wait for an illness or major challenge to let you see the gifts within your life.
As my voice begins to heal, it’s my hope that the lessons from the previous week don’t fade.
Today, it’s also my hope that you’ll be grateful for all the gifts in your life. Have a deeper appreciation of being able to listen to someone else. Strive to increase intimacy in your conversations. Recognize that less is often more and take time to celebrate life with your friends.
Don’t wait for an untimely illness or the loss of your voice to become a passionate observer and active steward of the miracle of your life. Start today.