Pick Up Your Fork

By John O'Leary

John O'LearyWhen I was 9 years old, I suffered burns over 100% of my body and was expected to die. Today, I share my story with more than 50,000 people each year in hopes that they may live a more radically inspired life. As a Phoenix Society Ambassador, I am honored to have this opportunity to serve as a guest blogger and share my story with you.

In today’s blog post, I discuss the joy of coming home from the hospital five months after being burned, and the troubling realization that my journey had only just begun.

“True love does not only encompass the things that make you feel good, it also holds you to a standard of accountability.” – Monica Johnson 

Have you ever experienced the joy of feeling like you finally made it (perhaps it was graduating, landing your first job, or getting married) only to discover that the difficult part of your journey was about to start? For me, that experience was coming home after being burned. I was nine-years-old, had just spent almost five months in hospital, endured a couple dozen surgeries and lost my fingers to amputation. The painful experience of being away from family, in the hospital, continuous procedures and constant pain was finally over. The celebration was on!

Earlier in the morning my family arrived at the hospital with a wheelbarrow full of Lifesaver candy and bottles of champagne for the staff who worked so tirelessly and faithfully for so many months. Mom pushed my wheelchair down the hall, onto the elevator and out the door.

We pulled out of the parking lot, made the five-minute drive home, turned onto our street and were overwhelmed by the cars, fire trucks, balloons and friends lining it. Sitting under an awning, a line formed of family, friends, classmates, neighbors, first responders and community members welcoming us home. Music played and people cried; the miracle happened. Eventually, though, our friends went home, the cars pulled away, the front door shut and we were left to decide how we’d move forward as a family. That night Mom made my favorite meal: au gratin potatoes (I was a strange kid!). We sat around the kitchen table in our reconstructed house as a family for the first time since the night before the fire.

The food smelled and looked delicious, but because of wrappings, splints and the inability to hold a fork, I could not partake. My sister, Amy, thoughtfully grabbed my fork, speared a few potatoes and elevated them toward my mouth. Mom said to her, “Put that fork down, Amy. If John is hungry he’ll feed himself.”

That night I cried at the table. I got mad at my mom. I told her I could not do it, that it wasn’t fair and I’d been through enough. The night shifted from celebration and laughter to upheaval and contention.

And yet, eventually, I wedged the fork between my two hands, awkwardly stabbed at the potatoes, brought them to my mouth, chewed on them and stared angrily at my mom.

My friends, true love not only encompasses things that make you feel good, but also holds you to a standard of accountability.

It’s impossible as a child to fully grasp the pain suffered by those that act out of love for your benefit. How much easier it would have been just to feed me the potatoes, to put a movie into the VHS and get back to life.

Love never takes the easy way out.

And the invitation we have today is to be on fire with love. Yes, it’s hard and sometimes unpopular, but it wakes us up to the absolute gift of being fully accountable to a cause greater than self. It frees us from excuses, blame or being stuck in yesterday. And ignites us to own our words, actions and possibility of our lives.

So pick up your fork, and enjoy those potatoes. 

Today is your day.  Live Inspired.


When John O'Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and author, teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. John's first book, ON FIRE: The Seven Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life (http://www.JohnOLearyInspires.com/shop), publishes March 15, 2016 by North Star Way, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. A member of the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, Missouri.

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