From time to time I see a bumper sticker — the populist soap box over the last twenty years — proclaiming, “What Would Jesus Do?”. (The casual answer is that Jesus would step on the brakes because if he could read the bumper sticker he’d be following too closely behind.) Presumably the alert reader is supposed to extrapolate that question into something larger — a contemplation to approach life with Jesus on your shoulder. The bumper sticker serving as the angel whispering in your ear.

It brings to mind the possibility of a potentially viable (but as yet unseen) bumper sticker, “What Would Harry Chapin Do?”. For the uninitiated or the unfortunate ones who missed out on his bountiful, short life, Harry Chapin was a singer, a humorist, a storyteller, a poet and above all a humanist. Harry dedicated much of his energy and life force to the needs of hungry folks around the world. Taken way too early in his life, in a car wreck on the Long Island Expressway in 1981, he, like Jesus, carried a simple message (among others), of love, and reflected a veneration of the simpler, sharper realities of life. Harry was not afraid to call out with a clear vision and a siren voice, if only you would listen.

Not always on a soapbox and by no means an elevated figurine or icon, Harry Chapin was a storyteller and modern minstrel. He’d reach into your heart, your history, while he told you about his own. He took time out from his music to tell stories of hungry people around the world and how ordinary folks could help. Many strangers ate at the table of Harry’s goodness while he was with us. In 1987 he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor for his efforts at hunger relief, and his legacy lives on today.

Prescient but a bit premature in the lyrics of his long classic, “There Only Was One Choice,” Harry noted that when he, “started this song, he was still thirty-three, the age that Mozart died and sweet Jesus was set free.” Living just a few more years himself, he used the milestone of reaching thirty-four as something of a watershed moment in his life, reaching a summit and turning back to review the path he’d taken. A rest stop such as this wouldn’t be a bad idea for us all as we race “so meaningfully” from place to place in our various Jimmy’s, Expeditions and Excursions, spending and wasting more and accomplishing and learning less in the process.

What would Harry Chapin do today? Harry would be holding us to a higher standard while stringing together more albums of heartfelt songs. He’d help feed the hungry. He’d give a couple of bucks to somebody who needed it. He’d be less overwhelmed (than most) with whatever success came his way and he’d look at his life in context, not in a mirror. Harry would help fund web sites such as, currently run on a shoestring but making a big impact by feeding thousands of people a day through an ingenious idea. He’d donate a third of his concert money to making sure children went to sleep at night with a meal in their stomachs, just as he did when he was alive.

What would Harry Chapin do? He’d probably do what Jesus would do. He’d give a damn about somebody besides himself. Do yourself a favor and go buy a CD or two from Amazon or Tower Records or hit the music store when you go to the mall. Lend an ear to the stories in “Dance Band on the Titanic.” Listen to him. Read his words. Harry didn’t preach, he told stories. If a story became a sermon to you and you embraced his vision, then he’d have planted one more light in a dark valley. Certainly, there are many lights left to be lit.

Make an extra sandwich and give it to somebody who needs it. Run a food or clothing collection at your office. It doesn’t take that much effort and you might change a life. When you see someone less fortunate –don’t judge, don’t assume — ask yourself, “What would Harry Chapin do?”.