April 1, 2018

A couple of Sundays ago I was at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to begin my annual inspection (an aviation term). You might know that over ten years ago I was first diagnosed with kidney cancer and then a year later with bladder cancer. Thank goodness they both were caught in the early stages!

It was around noon on Sunday when I walked through a sea of empty clinics and treatment areas with countless beds that are normally filled. During the week the place is crowded, almost like a shopping mall at Christmas. Today it was empty and the emptiness gave me a strange, eerie feeling. As I looked at the empty beds and medical stations, I thought about all the people who heard the same words that my wife and I have each heard twice, “You have cancer” or “Your cancer is back.” I wondered how many dreams were shattered in these rooms. I wondered how many lives were changed in both wonderful and bad ways. I wondered how many people, like me, began to really think about what’s important in life. We all make choices about how we deal with the same news. We can look for the positive or focus on the negative.

I use the cancer experience to help me grow in understanding and implementation of the power of servant leadership and empathy. I got valuable insight as to how a hospital dealing with all sorts of patient emotions and challenges addresses them and how they listen to people who really hurt emotionally, physically and spiritually. Through my experiences, I have learned the importance of a smile and a gentle pat on the back. I recognize the importance of just “being present” with people. My experiences caused me, like it would cause almost anyone in this situation, to question my values and what is really important to me. I find it interesting to note that the medical industry needs to share programs that the best medical facilities and hospices use to support their patients with other industries. In fact, I cannot think of an industry or individual who could not use this heartfelt training.

Looking back, my trips to M.D. Anderson were a great blessing. They helped prepare me for dealings with those I encounter. I will never forget a man who wanted me to meet with him and his wife. I wasn’t sure what he wanted to talk about. He showed up alone at my office and told me that his wife was out in the parking lot in the car and that he wanted me to go outside and meet her. I went outside to their car, opened the passenger door and introduced myself to her. After a few seconds I learned why they wanted to talk with me. She told me that they had just found out that she had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. They were going to go home to tell their children but they wanted to talk with me first. I sat down inside the door of the vehicle beside the lady as we all got tears in our eyes. Words cannot express how humble and blessed I felt that this couple would come to talk with me during this painful time their lives. The years at M.D. Anderson, servant leadership skills learned from my friends at Southwest Airlines and my spiritual journey helped prepare me for this encounter. I was humbled that out of all the people in the world that they could have chosen, they chose me to ask for help. I prayed that I didn’t let them down as I shared what was in my heart. I truly thought of this couple as part of my own family, as I do of all our employees, those we serve and those we encounter.

Maybe I have gotten it wrong or twisted but I often think of myself based upon what I read in my Bible. I also know the bad sides of me based upon what I read! I think about the book of Luke 22:27: “…he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the one who serves.”

I also think about Exodus 18:14-20: “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening? Moses said, because the people come to me inquire of God. When they have difficulty, they come to me…. Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statues and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do…” It is my prayer that I am getting it right! In no way do I think of myself as anything other than someone trying to be a good servant. I try to do what is right as I ask for forgiveness for what I get wrong.

It is in our darkest times that we get to select what is important and what is not important. It is these moments when we question our values and purpose and that is good! Through these experiences, I have confirmed my commitment of mission service to God, Country and Family. I pray that you understand your values and what’s important and don’t sweat the small stuff! As I continually remind myself, life is too short to get caught up in the drama that doesn’t matter. Know that you can be there to serve others and be assured it matters!

Written by KING AEROSPACE Founder, Jerry Allan King-Echevarria.