If you have never heard this story before, I will bet that of the 37 seconds it will take for you to read it, it just might change your way of thinking…
Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs.
His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The two men talked for hours on end.
They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation…and much more.
Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.
The man in the other bed began to live for those one-hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside that his new friend described.
The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.
As the man by the window described all this in exquisite details, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene.
One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man could not hear the band – he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.
Days, weeks and months passed.
Early one morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was deeply saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.
As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.
Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside that his friend had so richly described. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed.
The man was stunned as he discovered it faced a blank wall…the man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window.
At first a bit confused, the nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. After a moment of reflection and with tears in her eyes she offered gently,
“Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.”
The origin of this story is unknown, but what can be learned from it? There can be tremendous happiness, joy and fulfillment in serving others and encouraging their happiness, despite our own situations. Shared grief is half the sorrow, but happiness, joy, kindness and love when shared, are exponentially multiplied.
Great servant leaders understand this. Great leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela…weren’t concerned with their own needs first. They selflessly worked towards the larger goal, wanting what was best for others, investing in their successes. Think how the man in the hospital room must have felt once he realized what the other man had done for him. A selfless act which gave him a great gift that he can pay forward to others. Servant leadership at it’s finest.