Twenty years ago, the poster on my office door showed a weimaraner balancing a ball on his nose. The caption said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”
I loved that poster.
It dovetailed nicely with one of the quotes I hammered home to my special ed majors: If not I, who? If not now, when? My majors listened; they became servants of people with disabilities. One year, to show me they listened, they wore tee-shirts with that slogan all over campus.
But I’m retired now. When I see an unmet need, I sometimes think, “I’ve spent my time on the front lines of service. The young people- that’s their job now. I have the right to kick back and enjoy myself. Play my clarinet. Shop at the farmers’ market. Take afternoon naps. Read.”
And I am doing those things. Play my clarinet with the Hot Springs Concert Band. Hit the farmers’ market once or twice a week and buy mouthwatering blackberry fried pies from two cheery ladies. Enjoy afternoon naps in my bed or on the couch. Read everything from music history to kids’ books to trashy novels.
But God doesn’t seem to have retired me from service yet.
Six months ago, I started volunteering two afternoons a month at a humane society thrift store. I accepted responsibility for the book room where hardbacks sell for a buck and paperbacks for four bits. Had to deep six half the books because they were moldy, mildewed, yellowed, food-stained, rodent-nibbled, silverfish-infested, cockroach-pooped-on, or falling apart. Promised to secure donations of marketable books to replace the books I tossed. Did it.
Then I agreed to serve on the marketing committee because my talents seem a good fit for that.
Then I was asked to write grants for an entirely different animal welfare organization. Agreed to that because it’s a good match for my skill set and experience.
But last week as I was researching my first grant proposal, the voice from one part of my brain griped, “Hey! You’re old! Young people should be doing this! You need to be taking a nap!” The voice from the other part of my brain piped up, “Hey! Don’t listen to that nonsense! If not you, who? If not now, when? No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. And you can do this.” So I toiled on.
Then yesterday I heard a story that made that negative part of my brain plumb ashamed of itself.
I learned that an old, old man who can scarcely walk volunteers at the humane society’s shelter every week. I asked, “What on earth can an old man who can scarcely walk do to help with a hundred homeless animals?”
What, indeed? He sits and visits with old dogs. A volunteer brings him one old dog at a time, and he comforts it. He spends twenty or thirty minutes with the old dog, talking to it, stroking it, giving it hope. Then the volunteer leads that old dog away and brings in another old dog for the elderly gentleman’s tender care.
Some of the old dogs were dumped out on the highway by people who didn’t want them any more. Some were once beloved companions, but now they live at the shelter because their humans must live in nursing homes. Some live there because their people died without making arrangements in their wills for the care of their old canine friend. Whatever journey led these old dogs to the humane society shelter, they are alone and lonely.
And the old man decided that he could ease their loneliness.
I wonder whether the old man is alone and lonely, too. Perhaps he is, and the time with the dogs comforts him as well as the dogs. Perhaps he once had a dog, but his age and circumstances no longer allow him to share his life with an animal companion. Or perhaps he isn’t lonely. Maybe he’s happily married and has a couple of dogs of his own at home. Perhaps he simply has a heart for old, lonely, grieving dogs, so he take the time to come and comfort them, one dog at a time.
Whatever his reasons, this old, old man makes time for these old, old dogs. Perhaps he said to himself, “If I don’t make the time to comfort the old dogs in the shelter, who will? And if I don’t do it now, when will I do it?” Perhaps he said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. And I can do this.”
Shame on me for questioning whether I still have a responsibility to do what I can do to ease the suffering in this world. If not I, who? If not now, when? Because if one old man can comfort the old dogs at the shelter, I must do what I can do to help them. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. And I can do this.