This reading group guide for On Fire includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction
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When John O’Leary was nine years old, he was severely burned on one hundred percent of his body in a devastating fire that also nearly destroyed his family’s home. Nobody expected him to survive the first night. Against overwhelming odds, though, John did survive, and endured months in a hospital, dozens of surgeries, and losing his fingers to amputation. But John’s real fight truly began when he left the hospital and had to adjust to his new reality, to strive every day for small milestones, and to live a life with purpose and positivity.
The insights and inner strength John gained through this experience and the heroes who stepped into his world to help him through the journey—his family, the medical staff, and total strangers—changed his life. Now he is committed to living life to the fullest and inspiring others to do the same. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. John says at the beginning of the book that, if given the choice, he would choose to do it all over again—to be burned, to go through the surgeries and the rehab. Why do you think he feels that way? What has he gained from this traumatic experience?
2. Consider the choice John’s mother offers him in the emergency room: “Do you want to die? It’s your choice.” While most of us may not face such a dramatic choice, we do all experience what John calls “inflection points,” or moments that can change everything. What are some of the choices that have changed the course of your own life?
3. John’s tone throughout On Fire
is frank, honest, and even humorous at times. Why do you think John is able to reflect, years later, on his painful experiences with this kind of wit and good spirit? Can you think of a time in your life when humor made a difficult situation more bearable/relatable?
4. How did John’s parents, particularly his mother, affect the course of his rehab? What lessons did she teach him through tough love? Did John as a child appreciate her method? Does he appreciate her method today?
5. Consider the epigraph from Henri J.M. Nouwen for Chapter 2: “In our own woundedness, we can become sources of life for others” (page 25). How does John become a source of life, and inspiration, for others? Are there other people—either in your own life, or in the larger world—who also serve as examples of this concept?
6. John decides upon leaving the hospital that he will pretend that everything is normal. He does not share his story with his closest friends, and then in college he uses alcohol as a “mask.” What does it take for John to accept himself, “dimples, pimples, scars and all”? (page 39). How does this relate to your life?
7. How did John’s parents’ book, Overwhelming Odds
, and the process of writing and promoting it, change John’s own outlook? How did it become a turning point for John in his own life?
8. John says that many of us see and value ourselves through others’ eyes. How does John’s family—his wife, his children—help him to see the gift in his scars? How does his value in others’ eyes change over time?
9. Before his accident, John wasn’t sure if his brother Jim even liked him; but after the accident, John knew: Jim didn’t just like him, he loved him. How can a traumatic event like this one bring families together, or show the true nature of our relationships?
10. Dr. Ayvazian includes Lavelle, the janitor, on rounds each morning to show him that his work matters, that his work has a purpose: by keeping John’s room clean, Lavelle was protecting John from life-threatening infections. Why is it important for every individual to feel purpose and motivation in their daily work?
11. John shares that he recently chose to express his love and gratitude to his dad, who has Parkinson’s disease. What has John learned about his own purpose from his father’s attitude toward his disease, and what does this teach us about the choices we can make in our own lives?
12. Think of all the people along the way who inspired John during his recovery: his parents, his siblings, Dr. Ayvazian, Glenn Cunningham, Nurse Roy, the physical therapists Brenda and Maureen, and of course, Jack Buck. Who do you think made the biggest impact on John’s life? Why?
13. How can you take the 7 choices and apply them in your life? What might get in your way? What’s your
next step toward leading a radically inspired life? Enhance Your Book Club
1. John was greatly influenced and affected by Man’s Search for Meaning
by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl. Read and discuss this book for an upcoming book club meeting. How does Frankl’s view of experiencing and living life after tragedy compare to John’s?
2. Like Jack Buck, Glenn Cunningham, and John O’Leary himself, ask yourself the question What more can I do?
Discuss with your book club: What can you do together as a group to give back to the community? From volunteering to writing letters to collecting and donating items to a charity, discuss the options and take the first step together!
3. Learn more about John O’Leary and his inspirational speaking, read John’s blog, or sign up for a weeklong inspirational email program to kickstart your own transformation: http://johnolearyinspires.com/.