on doing

Do what you can when and where you can for as many as you can every day.

For years now—since my middle teens—I have lived by this trusty old motto and one other:

Be gentle. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden. 

The gentle one came from an issue of Grit Magazine, which I remember because they were the first place to publish something I wrote, and I carried that tattered scissored-out quote around with me until it fell apart, and then wrote it on another piece of paper and did the same thing again. Four times in the course of not quite four decades. I am not a gentle soul. The quote gigged me to aim that way anyhow on occasion.

The doing quote, I always assumed, also came from somewhere similar, but I’ve never been able to find the source. Likely I read something like it and tweaked the wording enough that searches are waylaid. Even these days, with Google, I still can’t find it, though, so perhaps I made it up on the hoof somewhere in the long past? Don’t know. Would be happy to get provenance on it, if there is any version available (please feel free to share in the comments below), but today I just want to say it here, because I’m doubling down on my commitment to living by its lights. I have always been a doer and a giver. Having things for myself while others do without hurts me to the bone and hollows out the marrows of my soul. But even when I believe I have been doing all I can? There’s almost always something more I can do.

Today I heard again the story of 90-year-old Arnold Abbott, who has now been arrested twice by the Fort Lauderdale, Florida police for feeding the homeless. Bless his heart: he went to jail for it, got out, and went straight back out to do it again! Now this is the kind of behavior we need a lot more of. I so admire Mr. Abbott and his organization—Love Thy Neighbor—and all the millions of people who every day are doing everything they can for others, so I’m posting these old quotes and a link to his story here. I will also keep this page updated with information, since there’s a Kickstarter project in the works to help pay for Mr. Abbott’s legal costs. But mainly I just wanted to gig myself to live ever more deeply these mottos of my youth.

Thank you for all that you do for those around you in need. Let’s take our cues from Mr. Abbott and find ways to love and help our neighbors (strangers and loved ones alike) more than before, whenever that is possible!

Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP/Corbis

Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP/Corbis