Denzel Washington, Philosopher

On the January 18 CBS Morning Show, the great philosopher Denzel Washington explained his viewpoint to Gail King. His words to his children were, “Do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do.” Having just seen him in Fences, I watched the interview with interest but never expected to hear any words of real wisdom.

His statement lingered with me after the program was over. I thought of how it applied to a couple of preschool grandsons. They are frequently told they must put toys away before they can go to the library or playground or before they can have a treat.

I thought of their grown brother and cousin who are pursuing a career in the arts – one as an artist and the other as a photographer. Doing what they have to do to make that dream come true, they wait on diners and bus tables to pay their rent and buy groceries.

Then I began to think how that pattern extends into life. The gardener pulls a lot of weeds and turns a lot of sod before flowers can be trained up a lattice. A writer collects a bunch of rejection letters before she gets a starred review or writes a best seller. A cellist takes a lot of music lessons and puts in hours of practice before he plays at Carnegie Hall. Almost every want-to-do has some have-to-do that comes before it.

I’m guessing the process can be made more pleasant if joy can be found in what you “have to do.” Otherwise, keeping the goal of what you “want to do” in mind should ease the task of picking up toys, waiting tables, or pulling weeds.

And if the Oscar goes to Denzel for Fences on Sunday night, it’s fine with me. He’s put in his have-to-do.