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  • Autumn Swain

How a Janitor Changed the World

In his book, On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life, author John O’Leary tells the story of a janitor who saved the lives of multiple burn victims in a local hospital. No, this janitor did not do something outside of his job description, like leave $1000 in the rooms he cleaned to help the families with recovery. It was something much simpler than that.

The janitor began to recognize the significance of his work on the day when a doctor on duty took the time to take him on rounds to see patients. This doctor had shared with the janitor that a particular young boy who had been burned on 100% of his body with very little chance of survival was alive in part because of the janitors good work. Did you know that infection is the number one killer of burn victims because the skin is the greatest protector against infection? The janitor's work of keeping a clean room was therefore essential to the survival of this boy. The janitor was saving lives by simply doing his job, and doing it well.

Why does John O’Leary share this story in his book? Because he knows the importance of believing that your work matters. He also knows that it was this janitor that saved his life because (*spoiler alert*) O’Leary was the boy that was burned on the entirety of his body and was in the hospital for several months during his recovery. O’Leary also witnessed a doctor that cared enough about his staff, patients and the purpose of his job to take the time to help the janitor understand the significance of his own profession. So, you see, we all play a role in making the world a better place because work done well matters. Caring about the work you do and those influenced by it matters.

On the flip side, indifference kills. O’Leary goes on to explain, “It kills patients. It kills relationships. It kills communities.” I am very passionate about a lot of causes and find that I care about those things with intense purpose. However, it is easy to become indifferent to things that seem not to impact your life or be present in your inner circle of influence. Just like the janitor did not recognize the extent to which his actions impacted the life of that young boy, I too don’t always recognize the extent to which my actions may positively or negatively impact the people around me. Choosing to care and to not be indifferent to the lives around me takes a conscious effort. But it can be as simple as an act of kindness to a stranger on the street. With loneliness as an epidemic in our society you never know, that act of kindness may be the single thing to change (or save) a life. A few words of encouragement may inspire a person to pursue an idea that changes the world. O’Leary wanted to give up. His journey to recovery was painful in every way. However, the people surrounding him and living their life on purpose helped lead him to a full recovery, and a #1 national bestseller, as well as a calling and ministry that is, in turn, transforming lives around the world.


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