This blog is dedicated in memory of the greatest female singer of all times, Ms. Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul.” Aretha set the stage and the standards for greatness, truth, fairness, and unselfishness in America and the world as a whole. She did so not only by the work she did as a singer, but also by the deeds/works she performed for others on and off stage. The words of Aretha’s songs impacted my life tremendously. Her songs not only penetrated my soul, they penetrated the souls of people worldwide. Her soulful manner was the stream that calmly hit to the core of my being, soothing me when I was sad, strengthening me as a Black woman, helping me to demand “Respect” from any and everyone, while assuring me of my values and my worth, no matter what others said or did.
Aretha’s music and her deeds/works will remain with many throughout eternity. What a woman, what a woman! She is truly a legend, who was not willing to stand for just anything, but she was determined to stand for something, especially for what was right, and what was truthful. She stood for the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the hopeless, the helpless, the downhearted, the disenfranchised, and the disheartened. Her actions spoke for her as she used her deeds to help others. I love you Aretha forever and a day!
In the same vein of using great deeds as the defining characteristics of an individual, I would also like to pay homage to Senator John McCain, who has also gone on to be with the Lord. Although a Republican in his work, he defied being defined by his work and allowed his deeds to define him. He had a choice and made it; standing for what was right, instead of what was Republican. Rest in peace Senator John McCain, rest in peace! You made a tremendous impact on the lives of many, not just across the aisles, but also across lives of people worldwide who are different from you. We thank you because you have truly been identified by your deeds (works), instead of your work!
Although Aretha and Senator McCain have transcended to another life realm, they still stand boldly and unashamed through and by the deeds they performed for ALL mankind. They were unwilling to just stand for anything, but through their deeds they stood for something, whether popular or unpopular! Although their work was public, their deeds were often not seen as they worked to help others, who might not look like them, who didn’t think like them, and those who didn't have what they had. Their work might have separated them from others, but their deeds united them with the world.
It seems as if we work all of our lives, sometimes working ourselves to death. And then, what’s next? We work to be accepted; to be loved, to be recognized, to be the first in so many things, to get with the greatest looking man/woman; to be the first to marry; to rise to the top, to get an education, to get the best and most powerful job position, to own the largest house, to have the greatest looking show car, to have the best looking body, to have the best looking and most expensive clothes and shoes, etc. It seems as if we work and then we work some more in order to be defined by the outcome of the work in which we engage. But in the end, who are you? Are you defined by your continuous and never ending work and the things you attain as a result of your work, or are you defined by the deeds you do for others? What about you as a person?
It's amazing how much time we spend working at our crafts in comparison to engaging in many other positive things with others throughout our deeds. I am sure that you like so many other people, cry each and everyday about work-life balance. What does that truly mean for you? If you were to look at the eight areas I include in my “Life’s Balance Wheel” (work, family, spirituality, physical, emotional, psychological, education, leisure), you would come to see that your life has been all about work, more so than any other area.
Either you are working for someone else, which is often the case, or you might be lucky or blessed to currently or one day work for yourself. But what does any of it actually mean? In the scheme of things you work your ass of to one day succumb to death, which signifies that it’s all over. You take nothing with you, as a result of your hard work. As a matter of fact, you brought nothing here when you came into existence. What made you believe that you would take anything with you? Nothing belongs to you materially, no matter how hard you have worked.
Who and what are you working for? What deeds/works have you done to enhance the lives of others? Have you ever really thought about it? On the other hand, the activities and actions you engage in throughout your life to help others will have more power and more promise, not just for you, but also for the people you love and others whose lives you have impacted.
If by chance you happen to be defined by your work, when you do not have a job or you no longer have the job, which you currently hold, you will not have a definition of you! If your job makes you who you are, who are you when you no longer have the job? The reality is, your job is an external state of engagement, many times not by choice, but because you were chosen to hold or to have the job you have by someone else, allowing you to do the work you do. When you are no longer the choice of those who chose you, your job and your work will become a thing of the past. You will no longer exist is that position and if the job defined you, you also will no longer exist as a person.
What about those who are not able to work outside of their homes for one reason or another, or those whose work is never seen because they don’t have jobs of record? Do they not have identities? Although they might not have defined work as you and I might ascribe a definition, I am sure that many of these people have some great deeds that they might be performing to and for the benefit of others. They are probably feeding the homeless, sharing the little finances they have with others to help them up, directing an unwed teen mother, redirecting a troubled young man, attending community events, while lending their voices of truth to help a cause of righteousness for others. You might consider them unfortunate because they have no documented form of work. However, they are very fortunate; they are making lasting and everlasting impacts on the lives of others through their works. As a result, they know who they are; they are defined by the deeds they perform, and not the paid work they do. What about you?
While your job and ensuing work are often a result of an inheritance from or an appointment by others, manifested through external controls, your deeds are manifested through internal drives and divine appointments. No one can unseat you or remove you from your deeds; they are the definition of your passion, your vested interest, and your investment in others. Your deeds supersede me, my, and I, transcending to a state of we and us, recognizing that none of us is as great as all of us. In the final analysis, it’s not all about the work you do, as it is what you do for others that will rise to the top! It’s your deeds/works that will count!
The positive actions that you perform to benefit others might not have an instant return that you can hold or see, but if they are honorable, you shouldn’t be looking for one or expecting one anyhow. On many occasions, you don’t even know the overall impact, benefit, or outcome of your deeds for others. However, when you work, you are not only looking for an instant return, but you are also expecting an outcome, some remuneration, and something that gives you credit for your work. Your deeds might never bring you notoriety, because you didn’t and you don’t do them to be noticed. Your deeds are of your heart, and not out of obligation!
It is not your job or the kind of work that you do that should be a part of your self-identification and self-definition, it’s how well and how much you are willing to reach outside of you to not look down on anyone unless you are helping him/her up through the deeds you provide. It’s your willingness to stand for and with the truth, in the midst of lies, standing for and with the underdog when it is not popular to do so, as well as you meeting people where they are, respecting them for who they are, and treating them like they matter. It’s being the bigger person and admitting wrong, learning to say I am sorry, and lending a hand to those in need. It’s all about the good deeds you perform, not the work you do. Your work will end, but your good deeds/works will stand the test of time!
In the final analysis, the quote from a familiar song, “May the works I’ve done speak for me. When I’m resting in my grave, there’s nothing to be said; May the works I’ve done speak for me.” Notice, the words of the song don’t refer to the ‘work’ or the job you’ve done speaking for you, but instead, it refers to the ‘WORKS’ you’ve done as being the speaker for you. In other words, the good deeds you’ve done should be your identifier, not your work.
Here is your opportunity to assess the works/deeds of your life. Are they inclusive of helping others unselfishly, or are they exclusive only to the benefit of you and yours? How are you defined? Is it by a smile or a frown, a kind word or words of anger and arrogance, an open hand of kindness or a closed fist of death, a heart of love or a heart of hate, actions of construction or actions of destruction? Are your deeds/works of you building others up instead of tearing them down? What will the dash between your birth and your death dates stand for? What good deeds will matter as a part of your identification now and when life ends for you?
Clearly, the dash between Aretha Franklin’s, date of birth and date of death as well as Senator John McCain’s birthdate and death date signify more of the good deeds/works they provided for others, rather than the singing and politics of the work in which they engaged. It was the passion placed in their hearts that lead to the kind of works they provided for others, providing satisfaction, while believing that at some point and somehow, their deeds will benefit others. And they most certainly have benefitted others. Their deeds will last into eternity, because others will pass them on.
Whatever type of work you are chosen to do, always do it well. However, it doesn’t take you working 24/7, neglecting your family, friends, yourself, or the other aforementioned areas of my “Life’s Balance Wheel” in order for you to do your job well. You must recognize that you are dispensable! Try being ill for too long or missing too much time from work. Better yet, try dying and see what happens to your job. You will be replaced as soon as possible. The company might allow one or two people to attend your service, but your work will be over and there will be an end, with no identification of you related to your work. However, your deeds/works will not only last for a lifetime, they will still matter after your death. The benefits of your deeds will live in and through others, and you will still matter.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.,
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
You have a grand opportunity to ensure that you are defined by your deeds (your works) and not by your work (your job). You will be remembered more by the former, rather than by the latter. What actions have you taken to help your fellow man/woman? And if you haven’t taken any actions to help others, when do you plan to start? Even though your work/job is done, your works/deeds will still stand forever! It’s time for you to start standing, not just for you but also for others; not just for the sake of standing, but for what is moral and what is right! I challenge you to stand and be identified by your deeds (works), instead of your work (job)!
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