Maybe the most important thing I learned during the filming of ON FIRE.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” -Mahatma Gandhi
Six weeks after completing the filming for ON FIRE, I am still digesting the experience of having a full-length feature film capture the most tragic, intimate, painful, redemptive, and joyful aspects of my life. It was a surreal experience that moved me deeply, reinforced the profound gift of life, and shined a brilliant light on the power of unconditional love.
Sometimes that love was captured in the heroic actions of young siblings while a fire rages in their house. Sometimes it was personified in an Emergency Room when a parent pulls back a curtain, sees their child in agony, loses their breath, moves through their own fear, and personifies grace. Sometimes it was experienced through the excellent care of a nurse, the outstanding effort of a janitor, or the consistent, hope-inducing voice of a radio announcer.
But as valuable as it may be learning lessons portrayed on screen, it was sometimes what quietly occurred behind the scenes that exemplified most impactactfully the power of love in action. The model of that servant leadership, though, wasn’t an actor, a producer, or our director. It was someone instead who didn’t audition for the role or get paid for the work, but embraced it fully regardless. It was my wife, Beth.
Beth O’Leary enjoys her work as an Occupational Therapist and adores her family. She doesn’t indulge in social media, doesn’t brag about herself ever, and doesn’t seek attention. And she certainly didn’t ask for a film to be made about our lives.
And yet, when presented the opportunity to share a story we know will be such an encouragement to so many others, Beth did what she always does when an opportunity presents itself to make a difference for others, she said yes.
From preparing a special dinner for our director Sean McNamara the first evening he was in St. Louis, to assisting the production team in better understanding the difference between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy, to providing the actress portraying her with the actual dress she wore the day of our wedding, Beth was deeply engaged in the creation of the film.
When they needed our dog for a scene, Beth rearranged her entire day to bring her on the set; when they unexpectedly needed the dog again late the following day, she left a meeting, retrieved the dog and brought her back.
When plans for a dinner for the actors and production team fell through last minute, Beth hosted the entire gathering at our house.
And my favorite scene from filming wasn’t written into the script. It happened accidentally after a scene wrapped.
With the crew preparing the next shot, one of the cameras was inadvertently left recording. No sound is captured, but the video reveals the ordinariness of a bustling hallway with people hurriedly coming and going. Then a beautiful brunette walks into the frame. She greets everyone with a genuine smile and a kind word, patting several actors on their back as they walk past. She then is stunned to see an extra she recognizes and gives the woman a big hug. The two embrace, apparently drawing enough attention that several crew members stop what they are doing, turning to see the joyful commotion. After seeing Beth O’Leary hugging an extra, they smile, observe it for a moment longer, before going back to work.
On their own, these may appear relatively insignificant. When stacked day after day, blended with the sincere kindness she exhibited to the entire team in every interaction, while still bearing the additional weight of managing her other job and shepherding our household through the process, it was extraordinary.
My friends, the way we show up in life influences profoundly the people around us. The things we do, the grace we give, the forgiveness we offer, the smiles we share, the hugs we provide, and the love we radiate not only impacts the individual directly in front of us, but also every single individual around us.
In a world that can seem so cynical, negative and divisive, we are called to be different. We’re invited to be joy, to be love, and to be a force for good.
I was grateful to see this powerful impact on set during the filming of On Fire. And I’m thankful to witness it each day off set, too.
This is your day. Live Inspired.