How often do you give away a poster?

Today is May 6 and the Navigate the Chaos question of the day to consider is “how often do you give away a poster?” A Nigerian proverb states “It is the heart that does the giving; the fingers only let go.” Today’s reflection provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon how often we give away something of value to others. Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well involves this act – also known as generosity. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow noted “Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” Such was the case with Broadway actor Doug Storm.

After moving to New York City in his 20's, Storm performed on Broadway in Les Miserables, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Dance of the Vampires, Chess for the Actors Fund, and Jekyll & Hyde. Storm has been involved with numerous developmental readings & workshops including but not limited to Disney's Tarzan, The Civil War, & Heathers. He has also worked as a director, teacher, and performance coach with kids across the country, including professional child performers from Broadway's Lion King, Beauty & the Beast, Ragtime, and Les Miserables, dramatherapy with at-risk youth in Brooklyn, and children of A-list celebrities. In the book Making It On Broadway, Storm tells the story of a poster he gave away.

"I was with the national tour of Les Miserables, and we were performing in Salt Lake City. At the time, we were doing the poster sales. If someone donated $50, they would receive a poster signed by the entire cast. After one performance, I was in costume selling posters and noticed a little girl who was looking at me like I was the Messiah. I heard her say, ‘Please, Mom, please, please, can I have a poster? Her mom said no, and they walked away. It was a moment I will never forget. In my left ear, quite distinctly, I heard a little whisper that said, ‘Go, Doug, go.’

In full I ran outside and found the mother and daughter. As I approached the girl, I said, ‘Excuse me.’ She turned around, and just stared. ‘You forgot your poster.’ I handed her a poster, and I was gone. A few days later, there was a letter that showed up on the callboard that read: ‘Dear cast of Les Miserables, you moved me so much. Thank you. I also want to thank you for giving my daughter the poster. I don't know who you were, but it was a nice young man, and he was gone before anyone could say thank you. Let me tell you a little about my daughter. She is sick. She was not expected to live past a very young age. She always wanted to see Les Miserables. They even snuck her out of the hospital that night so she could see the show. The tickets were a gift from a family friend. I am a single mom. Money is very tight. It broke my heart to not be able to buy the poster for my daughter. Thank you so much, whoever you are. Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ The whole cast was standing around weeping. I didn't say a word.

Four years later, the night before The Scarlet Pimpernel closed, I remember being bitter and jaded. Soon, I would unemployed again. Out of nowhere, at the stage door, I heard a little voice. ‘Mr. Storm?’ I thought, ‘Oh, God, who's calling me Mr. Storm for crying out loud?’ I looked down. I froze. It was that same little girl. She said ‘Hi. I knew you were in the show because I've been following it on the Internet. I brought you a little package. Here's a card.’ "Oh, my gosh, how are you doing? Do you want to come in? Are you seeing the show tonight?" "No," she said. "I'm not seeing the show tonight. I'm seeing it tomorrow. I'm seeing the last one." I said, "Why don't you come around tomorrow before the show? I'll take you backstage." I went upstairs and started putting on my makeup. I stopped for a second to read her card. "I just want to let you know that I've just been accepted to NYU Tisch School of the Arts for Drama, and I'm going to enroll because someday I want to give a kid a poster. Thank you for helping shape my life.’ I lost it. In a moment of my own despair and selfish jaded bitterness, there was that kid. Everything came full circle. That alone is why I got into this business."

Today’s story provides us with several questions to ask for reflection:

  • Are you aware enough to notice those in your life looking up to you (as the girl did to Storm?)

  • Do you have the self-awareness to listen to your inner voice (as Storm did when his voice told him to go give the poster)?

  • Do you have the character to remain anonymous after being so generous (as Storm did while the cast read the mother’s letter)?

  • How often do you recognize your own despair and selfish jaded bitterness (as Storm did)?

  • How often do you reflect upon the impact your life has on others (as Storm did reading the young woman’s letter)?

Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well requires tremendous focus, strength, and dedication over years and usually decades. But living well also involves understanding your life matters to others. Most of time those people may never say a word, but rest assured your life matters. The next time you have the chance to impact someone’s life, will you ‘give away a poster’ as Storm did? You can balance navigating the chaos and impacting the lives of others. Like all Navigate the Chaos posts, today’s decision is a choice. What choice will you make?