In January 0f 2012, I had the amazing fortune of traveling to Haiti with a gentleman named Wayne Elsey who started an organization called Soles4Souls. This organization collects shoes for the neediest people on earth...doesn't matter who they are: the folks of New Orleans after Katrina, those from Thailand after the Tsunami, Palestinians after their devastating flood two years ago, villagers in Tanzania, and almost everyone in Haiti.
At one point, I had just finished interviewing Wayne in the middle of a street market in Port Au Prince when I asked him, "Does it feel weird to you that me as the founder of a not-for-profit organization is helping you raise awareness for your completely unrelated not-for-profit organization?"
His words were profound:
"Dan, you are not my competition. Even other shoe organizations are not my competition. Yes, thanks to the generosity of others, we've been able to put shoes on over 17 million people, but there are still almost another 300 million people without shoes. You are not my competition. My only competition is time."
Those were words that have stuck with every day for the last 13 months. They are motivating words that always renew my own resolve to want to make the world a better place. They were the words that encouraged me to help put together a shoe drive at my son's school. We had no advertising budget and precious little time, but through word of mouth and the generosity of so many people, we were able to raise over 750 pairs of shoes. It was amazing.
And nine months after we collected the shoes, there they were...stuck in my storage facility. The road to hell is always paved with good intentions, and the guilt that I racked up was enough to choke a mule. Here we had so many shoes to help so many people, and they were just sitting in boxes... lonely... wanting desperately to be worn again. I felt that every day that passed, another virtual foot was putting one of those shoes straight up my...
... well, you get the idea.
So finally, last week, my wife Stephanie said to me, "You know, I have Thursday and Friday off. We could drop the shoes together if you like." And like that, we loaded up the minivan (don't laugh), and drove to a place about an hour north of Chicago... in February.
On my next job application, where it says former employment, I'm going to write in "idiot."
In all honesty, we were making great time. Sure, it was bucketing rain, but at least it wasn't snowing. I had just replaced the brakes on "Minnie," and she was purring. Did you know minivans will actually do 80? Neither did I!
And then, the snow hit... or rather... we hit the snow. Had we stayed in Chicago proper, we would never have seen it. But we were heading towards the Wisconsin border, and the next thing you know the windshield was getting pelted with flakes the size of a baby's fist. "How lovely!" I thought, stupidly.
Then the small flakes flooded down...you know, the ones that seem innocuous enough? Yeah, they're the ones that stick, and stick they did. By the time we actually got to the place to deliver the shoes, five inches of snow had fallen, and more was on the way. After the drop, we were hoping to get to our hotel in Chicago around 5 p.m. It was only 45 miles away, and it only being 3:45 p.m., we figured we had plenty of time to meet our deadline. Instead, we had not made it the 20 miles back to the Interstate by 5:00 p.m.
And then, we hit rush hour... in Chicago... the third most populous city in America...during a snowstorm. Seriously, things could have gone so far south in that car... I shudder to think of the consequences of even something as simple as, "This completely sucks."
And instead, it was a wonderfully tolerable experience. Did we like going 3 mph on I-290? Hades, no... especially after realizing that my grocery getter has a little "Bazinga!" under her hood. But we made the most of our situation. Steph had some game apps on her phone, and a charger. I had satellite radio. We had a little snack and some water.
And most importantly, we had the knowledge that at some point in the future (albeit the very near future), things were going to get better.
It was exactly like my walk with cancer. The road was hard and treacherous. There were landmines and pitfalls everywhere that I never saw coming. Sometimes, cancer would stroll next to me, repeatedly kicking me, punching me, making me fall. I fell down a lot. Sometimes it was more like tripping over my feet. Sometimes I didn't know how to get up. Sometimes I just didn't want to. Everyone I know who has gone through cancer has felt this.
It is at those times when everything seems stacked against you that you need to remember three simple letters: ABC. Attitude Beats Cancer. Attitude turns 45 miles in 4 hours into a memory that makes you smile. Attitude turns every perceived failure into an unexpected triumph. Attitude turns "This completely sucks" into "This completely sucks, but I have faith that it will get better."
In my darkest days, my friend Shin from Tokyo told me, "In Japan, we say the heart heals the body." It was something I needed to hear. It helped make the unbearable, bearable. And dare I say it, things became a little bit easier once my perception changed from the negative to the positive. Because simply, negativity breeds negativity, and positivity breeds positivity.
With which would you rather breed?