Every now and again our lives are made measurably better by meeting someone truly remarkable.
Such was the case several weeks ago when a long-time client invited me to join him for lunch.
No sooner had I sat down at the table when I received a text from my lunch-date informing me that an unexpected business emergency would prevent him from meeting me.
As I was explaining to the server why I would probably not be staying for lunch, I heard a voice from the next table, “Excuse me sir, I couldn’t help overhearing you say you had been stood up. Would you like to join me for lunch?”
I glanced over to my right and saw a man with a broad welcoming smile. I remember looking at my watch and thinking I had lots of time, and, to my surprise, heard myself accept his invitation.
I stood up and, as is our custom, held out my right hand to introduce myself. It was then that I noticed the prosthetic. And then the second one, where his right leg should have been.
He extended his left hand and warmly introduced himself as Eric, then gestured for me to take a seat.
Eric is from the Maritimes and was visiting relatives in Calgary who he had not seen since they attended his sister’s wedding in 2009.
He had wanted a day by himself to explore Calgary and here he was inviting me to join him for lunch.
And that was my introduction to one of the most inspiring people I have ever met.
Over the next two hours we exchanged stories of our lives and as I listened to him speak, it was his remarkable attitude as well as his life story that made him truly unforgettable.
Like his father before him, Eric had proudly joined the Canadian military intending to “give 10 years of service to my country,” then begin an apprenticeship in plumbing, finally work alongside his dad in his plumbing business.
He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2005 and later that year, his vehicle drove over an IED killing two of his close friends and blowing off both his right arm and leg.
His recovery was painful and gradual but he persevered and slowly built a life which today includes a loving wife, two adorable kids and a sales job that he “just loves getting up and going to every morning.”
What this man has overcome is by itself, truly remarkable but what makes him such a powerful role model and teacher is his extraordinary perspective.
Eric rises early each morning, before his family, and spends 30 minutes sitting in his living room focusing on how grateful he is to have been blessed with the wonderful life he has. His gratitude for everything knows no bounds and as I listened to him, I as in awe of his commitment to this daily ritual and desirous of experiencing for myself the rewards it brings.
He relives each morning the privilege he felt in being accepted into the military and the pride of been given the opportunity to serve his country.
His daily ritual includes expressing gratitude to the remarkable medics and, later medical staff who saved his life and “made me whole again.” And he spoke with pride and gratitude for how he has been blessed with his loving family and the career opportunity that is enabling him to build a wonderful life for them
Eric explained to me how easy it would have been to succumb to the gnawing pull of depression and how his entire life could have been absorbed by what he lost. Instead, he has chosen to focus, with gratitude, on all that life has to offer.
Back home, he volunteers one or two nights a week to visit patients in the local hospitals just to sit and chat with them and remind them of the healing power of gratitude.
As we left the restaurant he thanked me for joining him for lunch and pointed out how grateful he felt for the opportunity of making a new friend.
He left me with a small challenge: to take some time that afternoon and focus on everything in my life, and in my past, for which I should be grateful.
And I did. At least I began the exercise, but it didn’t take long to realize there was not enough time in the afternoon to truly experience gratitude for all that life has provided me.
I now take time every day to think about how much I have to be grateful for and, included in all that, is a whole new feeling of gratitude for the privilege of meeting Eric and for the lesson he taught me.
A few minutes spent each day reflecting on how much we have to be grateful for is, I have learned, a wonderful way to prime ourselves for the day ahead and is infinitely more powerful than any drug ever developed in a lab.
Till we read again.