Soldier holding Afghani child's handTake the world and mix it around.  Notice the people around you and see them differently.

Although the title will not win me any points on Google’s search engine optimization, I feel it reflects best the point I would like to make.

Nebraska's welcoming signI was just in Omaha for a friend’s life cycle event.  While there, I decided to be more outgoing to strangers and see how they interacted when I made even the slightest effort.  What I noticed opened new possibilities for my personal growth in ways where I can give to others, having them feel a little better about humanity.

Before the party, I had time to go to a cigar bar to watch a playoff hockey game that really mattered to me.  It was my home team facing elimination.  The fans were rabid and the players felt their presence.  This was all real and spontaneous. Like a barnacle on a dock, we were unison and intertwined.

The crowd fed off each other’s energy.  Thousands of people who never knew anyone seated next to them were “high-fiving” each other.  Strangers from different paths of life felt a human connection.  The players noticed this camaraderie and gave back to us their appreciation.

Loyal hockey fans cheering their team onSo during the game, I struck up a conversation with a native Omaha resident.  He was a lumberjack-type-guy with a mellow disposition.  I told him that he might find me nuts in the way I would be watching the game.  My heart was pounding as if I was in the stands with my fellow fans of whom I left home.  I would be “oohing and ahhing” with every shot, pacing during critical parts of the game and shouting at the television as if there was a microphone attached to it for all to hear.

He did not judge me.  In fact, he admired my passion.  As time went on, we started to engage past the game and into our lives.

I was interested to hear that he served in the Army as an infantry soldier for the last 14 years.  He served in Iraq and Afghanistan amongst other places.  He recently left the army to settle down with his girlfriend and is now working for an irrigation company.

soldier enjoying a smooth stogieAs I was drinking my tequila, he was savoring a number of dark stout beers.  The cigars he was smoking were moderately priced, and he smoked them with the coolest reflection on every draw.  He was in the moment, even though I could see that he had experienced tragedies which I can never imagine.  He spoke about buddies he lost in the wars, the duty he had, and the life he wanted.  A man of substance, warmth and courage.

Without my engagement with him, I would have watched the game and our paths would not have crossed in a meaningful way.  My willingness to look at people for the potential to enrich each other was something I always wanted to do more.

We often get up in the morning and go about our routine lives.  Everyone’s routine is different, but most of us have some sort of routine.  Now I understand the value of structure and I am not condemning having it in one’s life.  However, sticking to your life’s routines too rigidly might prevent you from your own personal growth.

Another reason why people stick to routines is because there is safety and security in it.  We know what to expect and that gives many of us great comfort.  Especially living in this crazy world today, I can understand the desire to not be afraid.

On the flip side, not embracing your fears only keeps you down and stunts your growth. Being too conservative is a great enabler for your own life’s excuses, as well as a destroyer for your own life’s potential.  Do we want to live in a glass and mirrored house the rest of our lives, hearing only what we want to hear, seeing what we want to see, and feeling what feels right to us?  All for the sake of being comfortable?  It is called “being in the bubble” for a good reason.  We need to do our best to break it.

US Army infantry soldier protecting Afghan childrenDid I want to hear about this infantry man’s horrors?  Hell no!  However, by giving him my ears, I gave him my presence and empathy.  Isn’t this the least we can do for our fellow man/woman?

I also learned a lot about myself in our interaction.  This symbiotic experience is what happens when both people take the chance, go outside their comfort zone, and engage.  Most of the time, surprising things will be brought out.

At the end of the game, my team won.  I was feeling good about the outcome, but better about meeting such a fine person.  I went into the humidor, bought him the cigar he always wanted to buy for himself but hadn’t, and simply said “Thank you for your service.”

We tapped our glasses filled with our favorite alcoholic beverage and knew that today was just a little bit better than yesterday.

Cherish even the smallest moments.  Don’t waste these opportunities.  They won’t ever come back.

Imagine to Emajyn!

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