All of us experience devastating and unimaginable events in our lives. This is a part of the human condition that we all share. How we respond to these experiences is what determines their lasting effects on us, our lives and sometimes our legacy.
My plan for this blog post was to explore the idea of perseverance during dark, desperate and painful times. How can we continue to find the gems of wisdom and expand our knowledge of the self in the midst of a full-blown crisis. Is it possible to be aware of the opening for transformation that a tragedy creates while going through it? I was contemplating these concepts and thinking back to past personal traumatic experiences as I fell asleep last Monday night and woke to a devastating and unimaginable text message; my sister Kim’s eighteen year-old daughter, Lauren was killed in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway on her way home from her final presentation to complete her freshman year at John Jay College of Criminology. I had trouble wrapping my brain around the information. How could our beautiful LoLo, such a brilliant, beautiful bright light, no longer physically be on this earthly plane with us? My family is forever altered.
It is too soon for me to know the long-term implications of this devastating loss on our tribe. But I’ve seen that tragedies can rip a family system apart or draw it together more securely and sweetly than ever before. My three older sisters, many nieces and nephews and my own crew chose to step up instead of stepping away, filling each other and our spaces with love and understanding. We came together and honored Lauren by doing the things she loved in upstate New York, like all swimming in the freezing cold Battenkill River and telling stories of our experiences of with her that the others may not have known. We ate, we cried and combed through zillions of pictures to create the slideshow for the memorials. We were in awe of the divine grace my sister Kim displayed throughout both memorial services, the wake and the funeral. We took our lead from her and so we will honor Lauren with how we live,
the choices we make and how much we love our precious lives…when we can get there. For now, we choose to sit, to reflect and to simply love.
I have come to the conclusion that it will take time to step into the transformative space this tragedy has created. The only thing I know for sure in this moment is that while we’re still breathing, life continues on. Every terrible experience, divorce, betrayal, a devastating diagnosis can make us ask ourselves, “Why?” to which there are no suitable nor satisfying answers. A more empowered question is, ”What will I do now?” and then you must decide.
That question seems to be very present in the work of my friend, and the original inspiration for the blog topic today, Hello Freedom guest John O’Leary, who has his own story about tragedy and pain, that he has used to spark change in his life. He has generated hope for himself and for all who have heard his story. John has a new book out called On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life. You’ll find that the meaning of On Fire is both literal and figurative. I interviewed John a few week’s ago and was so moved by his unfathomable story and his universal message of hope about how we can reframe our perspective on crisis and use it to fuel our transformation. If you’re looking to get inspired, this is the episode for you.
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“Everybody has a story, it’s just not usually the story we are telling the world.” – John O’Leary
- What inspired him to write his book On Fire
- How family can save you
- Why humans paint the image that everything is ok
- The success of his parents’ books
- The power of storytelling
- How his tragedy was a gift
- Why guilt can be a motivator
“When we are only focused on ourselves, we get so weighed down by the echo chamber of ego.” – John O’Leary
- The difference between shame and guilt
- What he learned as a chaplain
- Why he asks “Why me?”
- How crisis helps us grow
- Why we need to realize how fortunate we are
- Why he wakes up early every morning
“Shame has no purpose other than to keep us from living the best versions of ourselves.” – John O’Leary
- Get John’s book On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life
- Read his parents’ book Overwhelming Odds
- Watch Louis C.K. talk about people complaining
- Connect with John:
“When we are bold enough to share our scars and dimples and pimples and beauty, it allows us to boldly proclaim who we are. ” – John O’Leary