“I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.”
~ Maya Angelou
Again, I turn to Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014) for inspiration around the idea of ‘doing good’ in this life. As a modern American icon in several artistic fields and winner of many well-deserved awards, Angelou spoke to us from the perspective of a life that was not easy from the time she was a child. Because of her intellect, she was able to glean understandings about the important things in life and utilized her many talents to school us to live our lives well.
Angelou begins this quote with a firm declaration of faith that when good is done anywhere, it is done everywhere. On the surface, it seems to make no sense. I trust her thought processes, so I considered her words with greater depth and care. It seems to me that she, knowing the power of good example, believed that wherever good was being done, it was inspiring others to do likewise wherever they found themselves to be. So a good work done in one place can be multiplied and demonstrated in many other places. Those good acts will give rise, in the same way, to many more good works. Hence, the belief that a good work done anywhere will translate into good being done everywhere… in time.
As I reflected on this idea of good example inspiring others to perform good deeds, my mind turned to the never-ending struggle between good and evil in this world. I know that so many people suffer from evil deeds being perpetrated to them and around them. People live in fear of being targeted by malevolent souls. The millions of refugees worldwide are proof of this. I look at the life led by Angelou and I see a person of strength who wouldn’t be cowed by the reality of evil in this world. She didn’t wield a flaming sword or an automatic weapon, no… she did good things at every opportunity. She believed that goodness was her shield and her weapon in this battle. And so she schooled us.
Next, Maya Angelou throws out a challenge to speak to people that we pass by – she admonishes us not to ignore them as if they were but stones along the wayside. A simple greeting to a stranger acknowledges their humanity and their value as a person. “You are worth my time, even though I don’t know you.” This is the message that will likely surprise the recipient, and will certainly brighten their day. I know this to be true from being acknowledged by a stranger passing by. And yet, do I greet strangers in this way? Not very often, I’m sad to admit, despite knowing its impact on others. In fairness to myself, there was a time when I never did this act of kindness, and now I find myself doing it from time to time. When I do, it feels strange and awkward, but it is a good strange.
This memory of feeling awkward calls to mind another situation where I don’t feel strange or awkward. I have no difficulty approaching a dog and offering a greeting, a hand to sniff, and then a gentle petting. My wife will cross the road to pet a dog! Many times I’ve seen people fawn all over strange dogs and ignore people they pass in order to reach the dog! Perhaps we do this because we’re afraid of getting a weird look or being rejected by a stranger. Maya Angelou’s life was not easy, so I can’t imagine her exhorting us to live out our lives dedicated to the ‘easy button’.
The last sentence really struck me hard… as long as I’m breathing, it’s not too late to do some good in this world. I don’t know why, but the image that sprang to mind was that of myself laying in a hospital bed, clinging to life and still breathing. What possible good could I do? As I thought about that, I remembered my wife’s Aunt Aggie. She died ten hours before her 100th birthday in the long-term care home where she had lived the last two years of her life. The day before she passed, my wife and I were with her waiting for the end. The chaplain entered and asked us if the staff could pop in to pay their respects. We agreed and then spent the rest of the day awestruck by the steady stream of care workers, kitchen staff and nurses who came by, introduced themselves and told us what Aggie meant to them. We felt so blessed by these testimonials to the goodness of our beloved aunt and family matriarch. Aggie was the most humble person I knew. She was never married but she was beloved by so many throughout her lifetime. I dedicated my first novel to her:
“I called her ‘Boss’
And I loved her strong,
For in her eyes
I could no no wrong.”
Like Maya Angelou, Aggie had a strong faith and lived her life being kind and doing good wherever she could. I too believe in the power of good in this world. I see it in the words of great people like Maya Angelou and I witnessed it in the life of a devout woman who lived simply, found joy in life’s simple pleasures, and never missed an opportunity to make someone else feel good. Thank you, Maya Angelou and Agnes Ellert; I am forever in your debt!