After my last posting entitled “Here We Go …”, I have enjoyed reading your comments on the blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook. I have also talked to quite a few of you in person. It has been interesting to note that as excited as we all seem to be, there is one question that continues to recur in almost every comment and conversation: What do I do now?
If you are like me, that question has been one of life’s most common (and constant) refrains. In fact, the more important the task before me, the more tempted I am to cautiously approach the starting line. After all, I have reasoned, I don’t want to do anything wrong …
Over and over again in my life, however, I noticed that when I didn’t know what to do, I usually did nothing. I didn’t intend to do nothing. I knew “nothing” wasn’t the answer. But often, it was the ultimate outcome of not knowing what to do.
By now, many of you have read The Noticer and are familiar with Jones, the old man who was a real person to me and is the title character in the book. As you might imagine, I think of him almost every day and have for almost thirty years. I remember how he walked, his smile, and how he could be simultaneously stern and loving. Lately, as I do interviews and talk to folks about The Noticer, I am also reminded almost daily that
I didn’t include everything the old man told me when I wrote the book . . .
Almost every television or radio appearance I do now includes some form of this question: Andy, having been homeless and knowing there are so many people today facing the toughest times in their lives, what would you advise them to do … when they don’t know where to start?
I remember asking Jones a variation of that very question … the same question we are contemplating here and now! His answer, as always, was simple, yet profound.
“Son,” he said, “when you don’t know what to do, you must always doooooo … something!” My eyebrows lifted. Jones chuckled and continued. “I know you can’t do everything right now, but right now, you can do something. Look here, the problem you have at this moment is that while you are not lazy—you work and continue to look for work—there is a lot of time everyday that you sit under this pier or walk the beach being scared or mad or feeling sorry for yourself. You keep asking, what do I do? And I’m telling you, the answer is “something”.
“Actually, I believe that you don’t even know what you can do anymore. You have begun to doubt the very value that exists in you as a person.” Jones paused for a moment as if to let this sink in. He stared as if to dare me to refute him. Then, he continued. “So let’s think about this for a minute.
What value do you have?
Can you read?” Gesturing with his hand, Jones said, “You know, there are people out there who can’t read. Do something! Go read to ‘em! You’re young … you’re strong. Can you carry things? There are lots of folks who can’t carry things anymore. Go carry something! Can you mow grass or pull weeds?” The old man leaned toward me and spoke with intensity. “I’m not sayin’ to find someone and ask, “If I mow your grass, will you give me ten dollars when I’m finished … I’m telling you to go out into your community and find weeds that need pulling and pull them!”
Jones took a breath and cocked his head. With a sly smile, he pressed on. “Here’s what will happen … By doing something, your mind and heart will remember and reestablish the enormous value you already possess. You will have more energy, more excitement, a renewed sense of purpose—
and you will become more valuable!
“As you become more valuable, people will notice. No longer will they think of you as the kid who sleeps under the pier. They will forget that you bathe in the Holiday Inn swimming pool. Folks will talk to each other about you, but here is what they’ll say … ‘Have you noticed that guy? Every time I see him, he is helping someone. Every day, he is finding things that need to be done and is doing them!’
“People will observe your actions and your attitude and they will begin to place a value on you that they didn’t see before. In their eyes, you will have become valuable. I don’t have to tell you what happens to valuable people. You already know! They get job offers and opportunities and encouragement and favors and advice … and all because they did something—even when they didn’t know what to do!”
So this is our beginning, my friends. In this country, we have forgotten just how valuable each of us are. This is not the time to gripe or worry or accuse.
Now is the time to do something.
As rich and poor do something, they will begin to value each other and establish common ground where once there only existed opposition and distrust.
People of different colors, of different political parties, and different cultures will discover value where they were certain none would ever be found!
This is our beginning.
And we are the ones who must begin.