Friday, July 13, 2012

Three Moons: Introduction

June 17, 2004

I looked up into the night at the faintest sliver of a moon in the sky over my base in Iraq. And I knew that I would watch three lunar cycles from this base before I would return home.
Three months in Iraq. Not as long as a lot of guys. But three months longer than anyone I knew. And, not surprisingly, they would be the most extraordinary three months of my life—three months that would change me forever.
This is the story of how I got to that moment. And it is the story of how I discovered the secret to extraordinary productivity in life. In those three months I worked harder and longer than I ever imagined possible. And I accomplished more than I expected I could in just three months. And I would eventually discover that this was neither a coincidence nor even surprising. And in this story, you will learn how to take any three months and change your own life forever.

June 15, 2004

I’m in business class on an Air Jordan flight to Amman. And damn it, it’s my birthday. You know, your birthday is ultimately a celebration of your mere existence. Except that, to you, it isn’t something “mere.” It’s all you are and dream for and hope for. And so, I admit, I’m feeling a little sorry for myself.
The reason I was on this flight on my birthday is that one of our agents in Iraq had a sudden family emergency that meant he had to leave several days earlier than his original departure date. In order to make sure there was full coverage, the person I was supposed to replace would be moved down to replace that agent, which meant I had to get in position earlier than anticipated.
I had worked for a month at my current assignment, knowing I would eventually be going to Iraq for three months without coming back to the United States. And I had planned on processing what all this meant emotionally a few days before my departure. But suddenly my departure was now. And I was not ready for this. Add to that the fact that it’s my birthday.
A finely suited man comes and takes the seat next to me. I look at him through the corner of my eye. He seems to be Jordanian. I’m still holding my passport, ready to put it away.
“Look,” I say to him in Arabic, holding my passport open. “It’s my birthday.”
The man nods casually and opens a newspaper.
I just had to tell someone. I just had to share this fact, so important to my being, with another human.
We made some small talk. I learned that he was a businessman. He learned I was an American.
After we had taken off and the pilot had cleared us to move around the cabin, the businessman got up and headed toward the restrooms.
I sat feeling a deep sadness beginning to overtake me. This was all supposed to happen on June 18th. It certainly wasn’t supposed to happen on my birthday. Was I ready? I mean, when I land in Amman, I go to a hotel for just one night and the following morning I’m on a flight to Baghdad. The day after that, I’m off to a base where I’ll be for three months.
I look out the window at a wasteland of white clouds. One thing was clear. This was the worst birthday of my entire life.

And now I hear a strange commotion. Is that English being sung through an Arabic accent?
I turn around and here’s what I see. Walking up the aisle is a flight attendant holding a bottle of Champagne. And that businessman is holding a small cake with a lit candle on it. And they’re singing Happy Birthday. That man had organized this whole thing after he learned it was my birthday.
Tears poured from my eyes then as they even now flow as I type these words.
They set the cake in front of me and the flight attendant opens the champagne, pouring me a glass. I ask the businessman if he’d like to join me.
He smiles. “Thank you, but no. I’m a Muslim,” he says.
And that means that he doesn’t drink alcohol.
I ate the cake and drank the entire bottle of Champagne.
And I am without words to describe how much all this meant to me. That man had performed an act of simple yet staggering kindness upon someone he had met just moments earlier.
He had pulled me up from one of the darkest moments of my life and bathed me in the light of pure compassion. Please know that that man is a true representative of Islam. Wherever you are, dear man, Rahmat-Allah wa-Barakaatuhu ‘alayka. May the Mercy of God and his Blessings be upon you.
And one thing was very, very clear.
That was the best birthday of my entire life.

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