Threads of Compassion Weave Warmth, Gratitude and Life-Changing Lesson

I never thought that the dude that directed blockbuster comedies such as Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor and Bruce Almighty — movies that don’t particularly interest me — would craft an inspiring, probing, life-changing film.

Tom Shadyac’s non-fiction documentary genre “I Am” is a powerful, in-depth and eye-opening look into our world. It raises two simple, yet intensely deep questions: “What’s wrong with it [our world]?” and “How can we all make it better?” This non-fiction flick tells the story of Tom Shadyac’s near death experience — how it awakened his spirit and how he is choosing to consciously live the rest of his life. He explores how interconnected humanity really is, using science to explain how when two people touch or are in proximity to one another, the person’s heartbeat signal actually registers in the other person’s brain. Researchers also explain how our thoughts and emotions affect the world around us, even impacting bacteria in yogurt. Yes, I did write yogurt!

The film “I AM” truly is amazing. I don’t use the words truly and amazing lightly either. It shook me to my core and moved me to tears. As a former TV reporter, I’ve seen so many tragic and profound real-life stories and multimedia pieces, that I’ve become desensitized. If you ask my friends, they’ll tell you that it takes something significantly moving for me to laugh and cry during a movie. That’s why I want to share my experience with you…

Shadyac recounts his life-changing shift after a cycling accident nearly took his life. Not wanting to spoil the ending, I’ll stop there. I’ll only tell you that he became disillusioned with life on the A-list — the status and material wealth that came with it — and had an epiphany that sparked a shift that led to drastic life changes. He sold his house, expunged material “things” (the personal jet, big home and fancy cars) and moved to a mobile home to start a new life filled with awareness.

Aside from the snapshot of Shadyac’s surreal awakening, the images, textures and riveting interviews with Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky are brilliantly woven together, with a sprinkle of eye-opening scientific data, and a lot of moving scenes, vignettes, facts, figures that will leave you feeling like you can really make your mark in this world.

Coincidentally, on my way home, I had an experience that eerily depicted scenes from the movie. I was out of gas. For some weird reason I passed up the gas station right off of the freeway exit and was compelled to drive out of my way, past my San Francisco apartment, to gas up. As I pulled up, a scene played out before me like the movie I just watched — fancy shiny cars, hybrids, Mercedes and Hondas juxtaposed next to two homeless men eating out of the trash can, another asking customers to clean their windows in exchange for some spare change.

As I got out of the warm confines of my car to pump gas, I immediately noticed the frigid wind against my face. That’s when a homeless man walked up to me, with a desperate glare in his eyes. He told me, “Sir, someone stole all my stuff. Do you believe that? Do you have an extra jacket or tee shirt in your car that I can have?” I was shocked to think that someone would steal from a homeless man and immediately glanced inside my car and didn’t have any garments. I told him, “If you would’ve asked me yesterday, I would’ve given you two as I just cleaned out my car.” His hopeful face filled with despondency. In a genuine tone, he said, “Thank you, have a nice night.”

I felt terrible that he didn’t have anything to keep him warm, aside from a thin tee. I had a thin maroon v-neck sweater on and I was shivering. I thought, wow, he only has a tee-shirt on, so he must be colder than I was. I said, “Wait, do you want this sweater I’m wearing?” His eyes lit up as though he won the Mega Millions jackpot. Dumbfounded by the offer, he graciously said, “Oh, yes, please, anything will help, I’m cccold.” I took off the sweater and handed it to him.

What happened next caught me completely off guard. He put both hands in front of him, palms facing me to signal me to stop and said, “Wait, you don’t have to give it to me now, you can take it off when you’re done pumping gas so you’re not cold.” Wow, I immediately got the chills (not from the windy weather) and handed it over to him right away. I thought to myself, how thoughtful of him to think about my warmth when he had been exposed to the elements for God knows how long.

I then asked him for his name. He said, “I’m Kevin.” I shook his frozen hand and said, “Nice to meet you, I’m Toan. Have a good night and God bless you.” His smile widened, revealing a mouth full of missing teeth. WOW. Talk about adding more octane to an already inspiring night.

Admittedly, I rarely give to the homeless on the street. I thought, I give so much to the homeless through and have passed up lucrative job offers to build my organization (a video based website that inspires people to help others.)

This personal, raw, real connection and experience taught me that we are more interconnected than we think. Our actions, however small we think it might be, could change how people treat others. No ripple is too small.

This experience taught me that there is more I can do, simple things like clearing out the many sweaters and jackets in my closet and donating them to folks like Kevin. In return, Kevin probably doesn’t know what ripple he created in me as I share this story with you and many others. He created a shift in me, raised my awareness and consciousness -– and emblazoned in my mind is his smile, filled with so much hope. I will never forget that.

Perhaps there is more that you can do too…
What can you do to make someone else’s life better today? You have the power.

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