The Meaning of Life

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It has just turned to 2018, and I sincerely hope that for many of us we have the ability, the courage and the will to reach out to those who suffer and struggle. Our love for others may sometimes go unnoticed and, in fact, it may be unappreciated, but every so often the consequences of unselfish acts of love will go far beyond our expectations.

Last year, my wife and I mourned the death of her mother and my stepfather. Amidst the grief, we interacted with numerous family members and friends who contemplated questions about existence, life after death and family legacies. We even discussed the meaning of life. This conversation about the significance of living or existence in general fortified the decision our family made earlier in the year to launch a foundation to make a difference to those less fortunate.


History Leaves Us With Great Clues And Lessons

Arnold Abbott is nearly 95. He was a combat infantryman in WWII for 2 1/2 years. Abbott was awarded the Purple Heart – twice – for combat injuries sustained in North Africa and Italy. He came back home and was perfectly content to live a quiet life. He married and had a small, but successful business and wanted nothing more than to be a good neighbor, a good husband and a respected pillar of the community. Physically, Arnold Abbott is not doing so well these days. A man of slight build, he is falling a lot, and his health is failing. He is in pain and hunched over from arthritis, but he has clearly been in pain before.

For more than 50 years, Arnold Abbott became an outspoken advocate for Civil Rights. Then he started to see something else. Several of the same types of men and women he had fought with, and others who had fought in wars after, were becoming homeless and addicted.

At some point, he moved to the Ft. Lauderdale area, and it was there that he joined a community church and had an idea. The idea came after he lost his wife, Maureen. He decided he would devote the rest of his life to helping those who were homeless and suffering from malnutrition in her honor.

In his mind, he could not imagine that his idea would make other people angry, but that is exactly what happened. Using the church kitchen to prepare nutritious meals (and, I might add, using his own money), Abbott began to feed the homeless at a nearby park. He fed them without the need to get thanked or praised or even liked. Nevertheless, the poor, the addicted and the homeless were grateful to him. However, the local residents were not.


Can’t See The Forest For The Trees

Those who lived around the park and those who used the park were livid at Arnold Abbott’s soup kitchen. They called upon the mayor and the police department to shut him down. I am not without understanding all sides here. Feeding hundreds of people in a park each day will bring litter, vermin and a heavy impact. Of course, not providing social services or food or proper nutrition – especially to children – will cause many problems as well.

The officials demanded that Abbott stop or he would be arrested. He refused to stop. He was in his 90s; he had seen far more in his lifetime than anyone on the city council, local government or law enforcement.

Abbott’s statement the first time he was nearly arrested was simple and profound: “I Believe in the Fatherhood of God, Brotherhood of Man.” He told the media he was humbled and that he was proud to serve. He did not espouse any belief in particular; he only wanted to feed those who were hungry. He formed an organization called Love Thy Neighbor.

Arnold Abbott and his organization became pitted against the city council and the legal system. He stood trial three times, and the laws were declared unconstitutional. However, he did concede to move his location. Now, twice a week, his organization feeds the homeless and addicted of Ft. Lauderdale from a church and a location near the beach.


Finding Purpose In Life

As his plight came to local and national prominence, people of all ages, races and religions flocked to his cause. Arnold Abbott, WWII veteran, was celebrated online, in podcasts and on social media. He was admired for his sense of righteousness and his authenticity.

More than that are success stories of abused and poverty-stricken children finally getting nourishment through his love. In fact, his organization teaches cooking skills to volunteers. There are stories of people he fed getting the courage to rebuild their lives and to face the demons that led to their hopelessness. In the sunset of his life, Arnold Abbott’s love and purpose have been multiplied many times over. The past is only a prelude. Your existence on this earth is important, far more important than you may realize.


Gilliland Foundation

As we introduce our foundation and commence to support other organizations and provide funding for our own charitable purposes, I will continue striving to bring someone hope, if only for a moment. The world has more good than bad, and each of us can make the good bigger while shrinking the bad. No matter what you face each day, you have to remain determined to find a way to bring joy and hope to people around you. As Arnold Abbott’s love and purpose taught us, hope can multiply a thousand times.

As I shared with my family and friends my vision for our foundation, I discovered that to live a life of meaning you have to feel inspired; however, you have to fill your own cup first. If you are happy, then you will make other people happy. Our purpose in life has nothing to do with what we have, but rather who we are. Abundance in life is not the result of accumulation, but appreciation. Our actions will either influence people that the world is a cold, frightening place, or that it’s full of love and hope; and that, my friend, is the meaning of life.


For more information about Hall of Fame speaker and bestselling author Steve Gilliland and the Gilliland Foundation, please contact steve@stevegilliland.com / 724-540-5019 / www.stevegilliland.com.