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This week I spoke in Amelia Island, Florida and Charleston, South Carolina.  On Monday, I was picked up at the Omni Resort in Amelia Island by an elderly gentleman named Carl, who drove me to the Jacksonville airport.  This week is an especially difficult week for me and my family, as yesterday was the one year anniversary of our granddaughter Amaya’s death.  She was only two years old.  As I made my way toward the car, Amaya on my mind, Carl offered me a handshake and had an enormous smile.  “My name’s Carl.  How are you my friend?”  He lit up the parking area and in an instant made me feel wonderful.  We loaded my bags into the car and off we went.  We started with small talk, then after a few minutes Carl discovered much about me, as I did about him.  He was the owner of this transportation company.  He also owned a seafood company with two very large shrimp boats, as well as a cemetery headstone company.  He was full of energy, politeness and gratitude.  As I thought about our daughter and how she was doing, as well as my wife, knowing this was an impossibly difficult week for them, Carl began to tell me his story.

When he was just seven years old, Carl lost his father in Pearl Harbor.  His father was piloting the first American plane shot down that day.  He then told me about his daughter, who many years ago was killed in a car accident just one day after her high school graduation.  Then he told about his grandson who was killed just three years ago.  Then he said something I never expected.  “Ya know Mr. Deming, I’m a blessed man.  We’ve suffered some losses, but so does everyone.  Even with the losses, I have so much to be thankful for.”  I realized at that moment that my family is among millions who suffer great losses and go through seemingly unbearable heartache every day.  Carl made me reflect on Amaya.  But he helped me to do something I hadn’t done in a while.  He helped me reflect on how I’m dealing with her loss.  Although my wife and I started a foundation to educate parents, grandparents and caretakers of the risks in and around the home, I still didn’t feel like I was dealing with Amaya’s loss with a truly healthy attitude.

I told my wife and daughter about Carl.  They were as inspired as I was by his story and more important, his attitude.  Everyone goes through stuff.  Everyone has a story.  Everyone suffers loss.  We have two choices when things go terribly wrong.  We can either sink into self pity, or we can forge ahead and try to inspire others to do the same.  Carl is the latter and he has inspired me.  I want to be that smile and that handshake for everyone, because I’ll never know if the hand I’m shaking has a story behind it.  If so, I want them to walk away from our encounter feeling the way I did on the airport curb when Carl shook my hand, grabbed my shoulder and said – “It has been such a pleasure and honor spending time with you.  I hope you continue to have a blessed life.”

From now on, I’m paying Carl’s attitude forward.