I have always believed that everyone has a book in them. They merely have to take a look at their lives, past or present, to realize that life is indeed stranger than fiction. More likely than not, everyone’s lives would make for quite an entertaining story, to say the least.
Now I’m not saying that I think everyone’s book would be worthy of a Pulitzer or be chosen for Oprah’s Book Club. You’re holding the evidence to back up that statement on both accounts. But I do think there is something special and unique about each of our lives that should be written down and then shared with others. Having said all of that, I was totally unaware of the book that was lurking deep inside of me. I discovered it (or rather it discovered me) when I unexpectedly began a new chapter in my life.
The story I’m sharing with you began when I was set free (laid off) from my job of eleven years selling advertising space for publications in high tech. Being set free simultaneously marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life. From day one of this new chapter, many truths were revealed to me. For instance, I immediately interpreted being set free from my job as something positive from which I would later benefit, rather than something negative that I would be challenged to overcome. Even though it would’ve been easy to panic about no longer having a source of income, I chose not to waste any energy thinking about the negative aspect of the situation.
Another truth that revealed itself was the knowledge that I was supposed to take advantage of the rare opportunity of having some time off. Therefore, I didn’t immediately start looking for another job. Granted, with no source of income, this was an odd decision to make. However, I had worked nonstop since the age of sixteen, and I felt that I deserved some time away from the rat race. That was my story, and I faithfully stuck to it.
Adding to the list of truths was the fact that I knew, without a doubt, that whatever I experienced during this new chapter of my life would have a profound and lasting effect on my future. Without knowing how or why, I was very aware from the start that I was being lovingly, divinely guided toward something special.
The last of my truths was knowing that the significance of the choices I would make during my new chapter would be revealed to me one at a time, and only when I was in the moment - not a minute sooner.
Armed with these truths, I not only felt excited but also well prepared to begin my new chapter. But no matter how ready I felt, I was acutely aware of the fact that if this indeed was a new chapter, nothing but blank pages stared me in the face. Where was I to begin?
After a bit of soul-searching, the one thing I knew for certain was that I wanted my new chapter in life to be based on a commitment to living in Spirit, rather than in Ego.
As I see it, the ego houses the more base elements of human nature, for example, fear, self-doubt, criticism, control issues, and selfishness that if left unchecked, will create negative energy in my life. On the flip side, when my life is focused on Spirit, the ultimate Source of truth, I am guided by more positive elements, such as courage, forgiveness, compassion and generosity.
Therefore, the first step of my journey involved making a commitment to allow Spirit to guide my every move and to let nothing stand in the way of that. I was convinced that by following Spirit, the pages of my new chapter would be filled with a very special story, one that would involve adventure, personal growth, and a change in lifestyle.
As my new chapter developed, my path crossed with those of many wonderful people -- normal, everyday folks whom I met during my travels, as well as in my own backyard. I listened to their stories along the way. After each encounter, I asked these people (along with family and friends) for a gift. I asked everyone to answer one question: what is the meaning of life?
I also insisted that each person provide a spontaneous answer. In other words, he or she had to write the answer right then and there, while in my presence. Why did I insist on this? To answer that question, I have to adapt the saying “God lives in the details.” My version goes something like this: I believe that God (the ultimate truth) lives in the spontaneous moment. In other words, I believe that what you know to be true can be communicated in the moment, right now, without long deliberation or second-guessing. And you certainly don’t need an expert to tell you what you already know.
Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of people I met agreed to join in on the adventure of my book. And I walked away from this journey with my heart filled with memorable gifts that will reward me until the end of my days.
Writing this book has been a personal journey for me as well as for some of the people you are about to meet. Due to the personal nature of some of their stories, I am not divulging every detail out of respect for each person. However, I will share with you the fact that with each person I met, I was reminded that I was not alone.
With each meeting, I was reminded that no matter what their race, religion, or geography, people possess far more similarities than they do differences. When you think about it, we all eventually experience pretty much the same stuff that life dishes out: the same joys, the same pain, the same sorrow. Somehow, believing this allows me to walk through life with a greater sense of belonging in the world.
I will forever be grateful to the people I met along the way. Because of them, I’m more committed than ever to being a more curious participant in life, a more compassionate listener, and a more adamant believer in the saying “We are all alike.”
I know that I cannot change the whole world, but I most certainly can change my world by asking those around me to lay focus to the meaning in their life. Therefore, it is my sincere hope that this book ignites conscious thought so that more people can find their own answers to the meaning of life. With this hope in my heart, I invite you to begin your own journey of discovery, which may very well begin by you asking this question to those people who cross your path. You’ll be amazed by what you hear.
And so, the tale of my journey begins. Thank you for coming along!
A Book Is Born
On October 9, 2002, I was “set free” from my job of eleven years, an event more commonly known as getting laid off. Since I’m a nauseatingly positive person most of the time, it was quite natural for me to shine a positive light over losing my job as well. I now know that if it weren’t for losing my job, I would not have been in such a vulnerable state of mind; had I not been in such a vulnerable state of mind, I would not have been open to seeing the moment as the start of a new chapter in my life. Ultimately, both worked hand in hand and allowed me to receive help and guidance, which Spirit immediately provided.
Even though I maintained a lighter heart about losing my job than would most people, I don’t make light of the impact that getting laid off can have on someone’s life. Losing a job can be emotionally as well as financially devastating. However, in my case, getting set free came neither as a shock nor a surprise because my industry had been in trouble for a couple of years.
For two years, I watched as that dreaded pink slip was given to many people around me, clients and co-workers alike. Prior to receiving my own pink slip, I had stated many times that if I had been my own employee, faced with the same economic conditions, I would have laid off myself. Therefore, in hindsight, I think I was as mentally prepared as I could have been.
I knew my time had come to get “pinked” when my boss asked to meet with me the next time I had appointments in her area (Silicon Valley). Even though my Southern California office was only an hour’s flight away, my boss had never before called for a face-to-face meeting. Her sudden interest in a meeting alerted me to what was about to happen.
The meeting day arrived. I gingerly entered my boss’s office, still holding on to the slightest hope that my intuition was wrong.
“Hi, Louise!” she said, unable to look me in the eye. “You look great. New suit? Lost weight?”
Now, being a normal female with a healthy ego, any other time I would have just accepted her compliments graciously and not thought anymore about it. However, her peppering of compliments only confirmed my suspicions.
“Gee, all of these compliments . . .” I replied. “Are you laying me off today?”
To say the least, my boss turned pale and appeared rather startled by my remark. Busted!
She squeaked out a nervous laugh. “Let’s meet in the conference room to talk about your territory.”
Talk about my territory? Yeah, right!
The deed was done with much grace and professionalism from both sides of the table. If there was anything good about my exit interview, it was that my boss cried as she recalled my role in her getting a job at our company. I chuckled at the irony of the situation but knew that the emotion filling my heart would soon have to be released. But not here.
When I think back on that moment, I cringe at having delivered such a blunt “psychic” remark that made my former boss feel so uncomfortable. Despite the fact that she was the one to hand me my pink slip, I continue to respect her.
Spirit’s First Words
Within minutes of getting set free from my job, I sat at the airport gate and waited for my flight home to Southern California. My fingers automatically dialed for the love of my sister before I even realized I had pulled out my cell phone.
“Dee?” I choked out her name as tears stung my eyes.
Merely speaking her name broke down my defenses.
“What’s wrong?” she softly whispered.
“I just got laid off.”
Her faint gasp followed by a stretch of silent confusion reflected the numbness of my mind.
“Oh, Lou, I am so sorry,” she said.
What else could she say?
“Call Momma,” I said. “Let her know.”
The mere mention of her name made me want to crawl into Momma’s arms and cry until the hurt went away.
Swallowing the huge lump in my throat, I added, “I’ll call back when I get home.”
Once that was taken care of, I sat at the gate, alone with my thoughts. Or at least I thought I was alone.
Amid the hustle and bustle of the airport, I sat encased in a thick fog that blurred my vision of travelers parading before me. Common airport noises became muffled as they drifted through the haze. The only clear sound I heard was that of my own labored breaths and the frantic thoughts that swirled through my head.
Oh my God, I don’t have a job. I have a mortgage! With everyone getting laid off, where will I find a job? How easy it would have been to just lose it and let fear take over.
While I pondered these wild thoughts, I started to visualize myself standing on the edge of a deep crevasse. I looked down into the blackness and saw my toes dangling dangerously over the edge. My body swayed freely in a circular motion.
I toyed with the idea that at any moment, I could choose to lean forward and fall into the long spiral downward, letting myself sink into a deep, dark depression. It may have only lasted for seconds, but the thoughts of falling crept slowly across my mind. Then I fell.
I spiraled down into the black crevasse. The vision of falling played out in my mind as if set in slow motion. And then suddenly, as soon as the vision fully developed in my mind like that of a Polaroid photo, another image emerged. This image was of two cupped hands rising up to meet me (much like the picture of the hands in the old Allstate commercial: “you’re in good hands with Allstate”).
The closer I came to the hands, the faster I fell. And as my body met with the hands, I plopped down into the safety of God’s palms.
The physical sensation of falling was so real that my body actually felt the bounce when I landed in God’s hands. In fact, my landing felt so real that it jarred me back to reality and to the bustling airport. I looked around the waiting area to make sure that no one saw me jump in my seat.
Not sure of what had just happened, I took a deep breath and sat quietly as I got back in touch with reality. With more deep breaths, I released all thoughts about the dark crevasse image from my mind and exhaled any negative energy that the image may have caused.
The deep breathing helped quiet my mind. Then I sat in total silence.
What am I going to do? I thought as I lowered my head. Tears broke free.
With my next deep breath, my head was lifted, and through the exhalation of air, I received Spirit’s words: You’re going to be OK, Louise. I’ll take care of you.
Hearing those sweet words was all it took for me to release a deluge of pent-up emotions. I was fully aware that I was still sitting in the middle of a busy airport, but I didn’t try to control the tears. My cry, complete with full-body sobs and water spewing from every conceivable opening in my head, lasted for several minutes. I cried through feelings of sorrow, relief, and joy, all at the same time.
When the emotion subsided, a warm, healing glow ﬂowed through my entire being. The weight of my worries had suddenly lifted up and out of my body. I felt light. I felt loved. I felt at peace.
After checking to make sure that my mascara was no longer dripping from my face, I took another deep breath and received yet another image. This time it was a beautiful hardcover book, lying open to blank pages. As I looked at the book, my head was once again lifted to hear more of Spirit’s words.
This is only a new chapter in your life, He said as if shrugging his shoulders to say, “It’s no big deal.”
I immediately understood the magnitude of His words, and in that moment, I knew my world was about to change. I knew that my life was already set on a path not of my own creation.
Then, He uttered a life-altering message.
You hold the pen; I’ll guide your hand. And together, we’ll write one hell of a chapter.
From that day on, God and I have been coauthors of my new chapter.
Each time I replay the events of that day in the airport, I cry. I continue to welcome these tears because I know that they come from gratitude. I’m grateful for everything that had to occur in order for me to experience that unbelievable moment in the airport.
The Conception and the Oprah Connection
Once I was set free from my job, I decided that I deserved to take some time off to regroup before looking for work. I wanted to experience what life would be like free from the control of a watch or an alarm clock. I also deserved to take advantage of my severance package, thank you very much.
It didn’t take long to realize that relaxing at home during the day was far more fun than working. It was no contest: fighting the freeways of Southern California versus reading a good book in the comfort of my own home. Heck, even watching daytime TV was more fun than working. In fact, every day at 3:00 PM I stopped everything to watch one particular program: Oprah! One episode in particular really caught my attention.
The day was November 5, 2002, a day I will never forget. The episode was called “What Does the World Think of Us?” In it, Oprah joined forces with CNN reporters around the world to ask people on the street one question: what do you think of Americans? The answers that people gave were very interesting, and I’m sure that episode provided a wake-up call to American viewers as to how we’re perceived outside of our borders.
The more I thought about the Oprah/CNN episode, the more excited I became about doing something similar. The only thing I had to do was come up with my own question. I didn’t think that I’d have a problem with this because I’m always asking people thought-provoking questions. One thing you must understand about me is that I’m not one to favor small talk. I can only chitchat with someone for about five minutes, and then I have to take the conversation to deeper levels. So, as I saw it, my biggest dilemma was narrowing the field down to one question. But what question would I take to the streets?
After wrestling with a number of possible scenarios for a few minutes, I quickly gave up, put the entire project out of my mind, and went about my day.
As always, the answer came at the perfect time (in God’s time) and was delivered to me on a perfect night . . . my birthday.
The Answer Revealed
On November 13, 2002 (only a few weeks after being set free), I treated myself to an elegant dinner at Bayside Restaurant in Newport Beach, California. I was there to celebrate. After all, it was my birthday, and yes, I was alone.
Now to those who don’t know me, it may sound pretty pathetic to be celebrating a birthday all alone. Actually, it may even sound pretty sad to those who think they know me best. But thankfully, a few people in my life know that I actually embrace moments like these and allow them the freedom to turn into great adventures.
For those of you who just have to know why I was alone, it was because none of my local-yokel friends remembered my birthday. Now that’s pathetic! Of course, I could have dropped hints to remind them, but I think that would have been tacky to do.
Fortunately, I look back on that birthday and know that had that night played out any differently, my book may never have been conceived. So for that, I guess I have to thank all of those forgetful friends.
I arrived at the restaurant, walked into the bar, and sat down in the “designated” chair. (Even though there were several people sitting at the bar, each person had left exactly two empty chairs between himself and the next person.) Now I ask you: is it not odd that when people put themselves into a social situation, they intentionally distance themselves from others? This continues to baffle me, but there you have it.
I ordered a glass of wine and cracked open my journal.
Remember, at this point in my life, I was unemployed and alone on my birthday. Still sounds pretty pathetic, huh? Not a chance. For it was in this moment that I began one of the biggest adventures of my life.
I quickly filled the pages of my journal with my thoughts, ramblings, and profound recollections. As I flipped to a new page, from my left side I heard a few words tossed my way.
“You shouldn’t be working so hard,” said the older gentleman nursing his drink.
Of course, having just lost my job, the irony made me giggle.
“Oh, no. It’s not work at all,” I said with a grin from ear to ear.
It was clear that the tanned-face man was interested in striking up a conversation, and with the exchange of a few pleasantries, I could tell that he was not trying to hit on me.
We enjoyed a few minutes of small talk, but then quickly plunged into deeper conversation about our lives.
Carlos was born in South America and moved to the United States as a young boy. Although he grew up in Pittsburgh, when it came time to find a job, he chose to move to New York City.
“For as long as I can remember,” Carlos said, “something inside told me that the American dream was mine for the taking.”
A look of determination filled his eyes as he continued, “One day, I walked down Fifth Avenue and pointed to certain buildings. And to each building I said, ‘I’m going to work in that building one day. And that one. And that one.’”
Carlos’s recollections seemed to take him back in time, and I closely watched his face as his memories paraded before his eyes.
“Even though I had to start at the bottom, in the mailroom, I ended up working in every building that I pointed to that day,” he proudly proclaimed.
Although Carlos had been a successful businessperson for some time, he still seemed to look back on his struggles as a youth with much fondness.
The courage and determination of young Carlos was impressive, and while he shared more of his story, I started to imagine what it would be like to put his idea into action in my own life. Just point to what I want in life and then go get it. Point to happiness and claim it. Point to peace and create it. Something like the Nike ads: “Just do it.” I liked that idea.
As Carlos launched into another story, something strange started happening to me. My mind began separating into two parts. The front part continued to listen intently to Carlos, while at the same time, the back part began receiving a message from Spirit.
Without any prelude, Spirit began speaking. You now know what question to ask. And you now know what you have to do.
And do you know what? I did know! In that moment, I had been given the question that I would begin asking people. I thought back to the inspiration I felt watching that Oprah episode. It’s funny to think that the answer I had been looking for came in the form of a question.
The divide in my mind then sealed back together, and I returned my full attention to Carlos. When his story was over, I took a deep breath and declared my mission.
“I am writing a book. And I would like you to be in it,” I proclaimed.
The words sounded so odd yet felt so right.
“Yes, yes. Whatever you want,” Carlos said as he all but grabbed the pen out of my hand, happy to be the first entry in my book. His eagerness convinced me that he had also felt the unspoken connection and trust we had shared that night.
“I would like you to give me your spontaneous answer to what is the meaning of life?”
As they say, the rest is history.
It is the rational “intent” from a human being to know the universe through knowing himself.
There are many reasons why I will always remember that particular birthday. Receiving Spirit’s message sure does top the list. But I will also remember the role that Carlos played that night. I know he was put there to remind me that hidden treasure could always be discovered within the heart of the “stranger” sitting next to me.
Now that I had my question, and my first answer, I knew that my journey had begun. And from the outset, I promised myself to live this adventure to the fullest.
Copyright © 2007 Louise Lewis
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