May 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

It's a Dickens of an assignment, but readers come through with short doses of insight and inspiration

Quote on the wall inside of the bone marrow transplant floor at Karmanos. (Karmonos)

Herschel Fink strolled into the Chipotle Mexican Grill in West Bloomfield Township two Saturdays ago and asked if they had any of the author cups.

It was not a random question. His daughter, bestselling writer and Detroit native Sheri Fink, is one of 10 notables whose short essays have been reprinted on cups and bags.

She is also the inspiration for the instruction and inspiration you’re about to read here. Prompted by her contribution — she’s on a brown bag, it turns out, rather than a white cup — I asked for wisdom in 40 words or less, and dozens of literate people kindly and helpfully responded.

The young woman behind the counter was not one of them. She gave Herschel Fink a quizzical look and asked, “What’s an author?”

Well. That would be someone like Charles Dickens, whose first line of “David Copperfield” was quoted by contributor Jeff Johnson of Brighton:

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

Or it could be Ernie Harwell, a prolific writer even if we remember him as a talker. Kelly Laliberte of Dearborn is pretty sure he’s the one she heard say, “When you have a choice between being right and being kind, always be kind.”

Or it could be David Paulus of Detroit, who qualifies even if his two books haven’t been published.

“Take action,” he said. “The results may have you underwhelmed and flat on your face, or they may surpass your wildest dreams — but things won’t just stay the same.”

'Move more, eat less'

Steve Pollack, a retired accountant from Huntington Woods, sent two pieces of advice.

“Move more, eat less,” he said. That’s the retiree side. And from the accountant side:

“Save 15 percent of everything you make and you’ll be OK. There are lots of folks who get by on 15 percent less than what you make.”

Andrew Riegle of Huntington Woods took that notion a step further. “Try less to get what you want,” he said, “and more to want what you’ve got.”

And on the same theme, from Dayna Clark, who handles the traffic reports during Paul W. Smith’s morning show on WJR-AM (760):

“Happiness is a state of mind, not the state of your circumstances.”

Nice circumstances don’t hurt, of course. Many of the contributors to the project Chipotle calls “Cultivating Thought” could treat themselves to the entire menu, regularly.

Comedian Sarah Silverman is on a cup. Writer, director and producer Judd Apatow has a bag. Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell have a parade of bestsellers, and Toni Morrison has global adoration.

But life’s not about the big things, said Michelle Wolford Ball of Wolverine Lake. “It’s the little things.”

Or as Jim Mulhern of Plymouth put it, “Don’t tweet the small stuff.”

'Dance in the rain'

Sometimes the power of a message rests in its location.

Dee Kala of Addison Township submitted a familiar quotation from Vivian Greene: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Then she explained the context. “This bit of wisdom is stenciled on a wall of the bone marrow transplant floor at Karmanos.” During her late husband’s treatment, “they became words to live by.”

Occupation can also shape a message or an outlook. While others waxed poetic, engineer Al Kovacs of South Lyon was bluntly practical.

“Given a world crammed with war, spectacle, unbridled ego and aggressive bully attitude, the intelligent mind searches out creative and innovative STEM contributions. … Think you’re tough? Acquire the educational tools and solve a big STEM problem.”

Bryan Vance of Canton Township passed along something he learned selling real estate. “Knowing that you have made a difference and changed someone’s life for the better is one of the greatest rewards of success.”

“Oh,” he added, “don’t forget to call your Realtor and thank them.”

Another Realtor, Dee Dee Feinberg Marcellino of Jackson, offered a reminder to bet the house on:

“If you want to be happy,” she said, “you can’t get up in the morning and ask, ‘Who is going to make me happy today’ ”

'There is no failure'

Agnes Riordan-Gira, a painter and Detroit health inspector, quoted her dad: “If you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em.”

Jan Synk of Sterling Heights, meanwhile, left no room for befuddlement. “There is no failure,” she said, “only feedback.”

Gwen Rotole, also from Sterling Heights, said her kids have grown to love her favorite as much as she does:

“Life. It is nothing like the brochure.”

But it’s still worth sticking around for, even with the occasional paper cut. “Life is not fair,” observed Steven Bartley of Bloomfield Township, “but that doesn’t mean you have to be unfair.”

To that, Mary Ellen Bork of Dearborn Heights would surely nod her head.

She’s a devoted grandmother, a skilled and generous muffin-baker, and not always a woman of few words. But in this case, she was, and the entirety of her advice is as follows:

“Smile.”

nrubin@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-1874
@nealrubin_dn

When we asked for insight in 40 words or less, Kelly Laliberte of Dearborn ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)