"The first time you accept 'good' is the last time you will see excellence."
--- John Ulmo We had talked about the possibility and it's ramifications for weeks as test after test failed to confirm or refute the diagnosis. But now we sat in my office crushed by the reality that it was true; John had ALS, Lou Gehrigs's disease. The insidious affliction strikes the muscular system of its victim, eventually draining the body of all strength to support even breathing and a beating heart.
John had been my business partner, my friend and my mentor for many years. He was the kind of friend who pushed you beyond what you thought you could do. John always saw you not for what you are but for what he thought you could be, and then he never let you settle for anything less. One time I objected to his expectations and he responded patiently, "Rick, I wouldn't be much of a friend if I let you settle for what you think is your best."
We sat in the office crying and holding hands like two adolescent children, realizing that the crippling death sentence would not allow John to live for more that two years. Finally, I asked him to think about the one thing he had always dreamed about doing, something that he had not done yet. Was there some event he would like to see with Bonnie, his loving partner? Would it be the running of the bulls in Spain or would he want to see the Great Wall of China, the Parthenon or the Wailing Wall?
His response was actually predictable. John was a lifelong car-racing enthusiast; he had always wanted to go to the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately, it seemed that the tickets for the event were long tied up in corporate commitments or with fans that handed their seats down through the family as a legacy.
However, I confidently told John it would be no problem. Many of my clients had connections to the automobile industry from tire makers, to paint and oil producers to parts suppliers; someone was certain to have access to just two tickets to Indy. But my confidence was misplaced. Time after time, I was told that even though my request was noble, the corporate allotment was predetermined for years in the future. The 1996 Indy 500 came and went and I was unable to get the tickets for John and Bonnie.
I took advantage of my position as a professional speaker for fifteen months. I asked over 100 audiences for the tickets and my hopes sagged, as the 1997 Memorial Day classic loomed nearer. John's faith remained and his fortitude drove him to lead his hectic life as his body declined and strength drained away. He would often say, "This disease thinks it has me. Well little does it know, I got it and it hasn't seen anything like me."
For all of his positive faith, I knew in my heart that 1997 would be John's last chance to see the event. By the time I became desperate enough to call them, the brokers and scalpers were out of tickets. In a depression for weeks because I had failed to act sooner, I could barely face John and Bonnie. I had failed to make his wish come true. He reassured me that he appreciated the idea and my efforts but said, "You are going to die stressed out over this ticket thing before I die of ALS."
Then, just two weeks before the event, the telephone rang and Peggy Zomack of Cooper Power in Pittsburgh asked the question that stopped my breathing.
"Rick," she asked, "are you still looking for those Indy 500 tickets?" Then she had to ask, "Rick, are you still there?"
I couldn't say anything. My voice was paralyzed. Eventually, I got the words out and through joyful tears assured her she was heaven sent. She put the tickets in overnight mail, and I called Bonnie.
"Bonnie," I said, "tomorrow, before 10:00 A.M. I will have in my hands two tickets to the 1997 Indy 500 for you and John." She and I rejoiced for several more minutes through bouts of more tears. Then a horrifying thought struck me. "Bonnie!" I said, "The 500 is just two weeks from now, I don't know how you will be able to find a room."
"Oh, don't worry about that," she replied, "I paid for the room almost a year ago. I knew if I showed that much faith in Him, God would provide the tickets somehow."
Copyright © 2010 Rick Phillips
Rick Phillips, a veteran of three decades of sales and management, founded Phillips Sales and Staff Development in 1984. His core training philosophy is that much of the training being offered in American business was at best inadequate or woefully misplaced. "People are still taught to memorize words and techniques...instead of understanding the principles. Principles are constants that don't change."
Rick has been a featured speaker at the international convention for the American Society for Training and Development. He is a past winner of the ASTD Training Program Design Award. Rick has received Toastmasters International's highest earned honor being named Distinguished Toastmaster and was a featured presenter at their international convention. As a member of the National Speakers Association, he served as president of the Louisiana Chapter and has been named Chapter Member of the Year.
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