Here is your Friday story, Learn to Fly. Courtesy of Bob Proctor

In mythology, the Phoenix is a sacred bird with beautiful red and golden feathers. This bird, at the end of its life, will build a nest of twigs, lay on the nest then ignite. The bird and the nest destroyed in a fierce fire.

January 17, 1987 began as a busy Saturday for the O’Leary family, or at least that is how Susan O’Leary describes it in her inspiring book entitled, Overwhelming Odds. Susan’s husband, Denny, a successful attorney in St. Louis, was at work preparing for a Monday court hearing. She was leaving the house with their oldest daughter, Cadey, taking her to music lessons. Jim, age 17, was still sleeping. As was Amy, 11. John was nine and Susan seven, they were both awake somewhere in the house.

Laura, the youngest, a toddler of eighteen months, would be going with Susan and Cadey. A quick run through the house by Susan told everyone that they were leaving and that they would return in an hour. Susan found John in the basement, he had built a fire in the fireplace and was standing there watching the flames when she found him. That concerned her, and she told John so. “You are not to get near that fireplace unless dad or I are with you. Do you understand?” John nodded his agreement. Susan reminded him where everyone was, and that she and the two girls would be back in an hour. Then, she left.

John, earlier in the fall, had witnessed a couple of older neighborhood boys playing with gasoline and fire. They would dump out some gas, light it, then laugh at the quick ‘poof’ of fire. With the house quiet, mom and dad away, John decided he would do the same as these boys had done. He rolled a piece of paper then lit it from a fireplace flame. He carefully carried it to the garage. There, he found a five-gallon gas can in the corner. John tried to lift the can but with about three gallons of gas inside it, the can was too heavy. So, he put the paper down. The flame intensified as he did so. He intended to dump a few drops on the flame and decided that he would simply tilt the gas can over the burning paper. Leaning over the flame and gas can, he tilted the can. The gas fumes poured out of the nozzle. Before a drop of gas hit the paper, the fumes ignited. The gas can burst, covering John in gasoline. That gasoline ignited. The force of the explosion threw John backwards almost fifteen feet. Months later, the O’Leary’s would learn that the explosion was so intense; the repercussions were heard blocks away. There, in the garage, nine-year-old John’s entire body was engulfed in fire.

Susan and Denny arrived at the hospital, St. John’s Intensive Care Burn Unit. There they learned the blunt facts surrounding their son’s condition. He was burned on nearly 100% of his body. About 15% of his body had second-degree burns with the remainder, 85% of the body, at third degree severity. In places, the burns were through three layers of skin, muscle and into the bone. In the first 24-hours, the fluids pumped into John’s body to help replenish fluids lost from the event and to provide moisture to undamaged cells. The body would react to these fluids by swelling, closing his eyes and mouth. He was semiconscious.

After learning these facts, Susan asked the doctor, “Are you saying he has only a 50% chance of survival? The doctor, one of the best burn specialist in the country, responded, “Mrs. O’Leary, you do not understand what I’ve told you. I’m not a betting man, but if I were to categorize it in that fashion, I would say that John has less than a one half of 1% chance of making it through the night.”

When Susan and Denny first saw their son, John was still able to speak, his mouth had not yet swollen closed from the fluids. He asked, “Mommy, am I going to die?”

In a calm voice Susan replied, “John, do you want to die?”

“No.” was his reply.

“Then John, you are going to have to fight as hard as you have ever have in your life. You are going to have to run as fast as you ever have on the soccer field. You are going to have to give it your all.”

There is an anonymous quote that reads, “When we come to the edge of all of the light we have and we must take a step into the darkness of the unknown we must believe one of two things. Either, we will find something firm to stand on or we will be taught to fly.” Do we choose life? Do we choose life in our daily struggles or the grind of a morning commute, in an argument with our children, in turmoil at work, in our faith or in working a dead-end job.

The Phoenix, after burning and being reduced to ashes will rise again. And, in this new life, is stronger than before, able to fly higher and go further. Live and fight as hard as we have ever fought in life. Know that we will find something firm to stand or will be taught to fly. And, as for John, he followed his choice to live. He survived that first night. And slowly, painfully, day-by-day, he chose life and in so doing rose from the ashes.

Matt Forck

Matt Forck, CSP, JLW, is asought after speaker and consultant. He appears at industry events and his corporate client list includes fortune 500 companies, trade associations, utility and construction companies.This story is from Matt’s latest book entitled, Check Up From the Neck Up – – 101 Ways to Get Your Head in the Game of Life.

To learn more about John O’Leary and his incredible story, log onto his website;