Sunday, July 23, 2006

Selflessness

My sister-in-law's mother passed away last week. She, my brother, and their kids were in Arizona, where her family lives. My sister-in-law sent me (as well as all my other family members) an email the day her mother died. I intended to respond to it, but didn't get around to it and then forgot about it because I've been so wrapped up in my own life. Obviously, I didn't forget about my sister-in-law and her travails, but I didn't take the time to send my condolences, and when my sister-in-law returned home, she was understandably hurt that I hadn't taken five minutes out of my day to acknowledge her loss. Everything's fine and forgiven now (my sister-in-law is certainly not one to hold grudges), but it did get me to thinking how self-centered I can be at times.

My view on death is that's it's just a temporary separation, and there's nothing I can really do about it, so why get all worked up about it? Obviously I miss very much the people in my life who have passed on, but I know I will see them again in the afterlife, so death doesn't affect me as much as perhaps it ought to. My sister-in-law believes, too, that she will see her mother again, but of course still mourns the loss and just wanted some acknowledgment of that loss and to know she wasn't alone in this, and my simple email could have helped her achieve that.

I have a similar issue with Jonah in that our long-distance relationship is much tougher on him than it is on me. I miss him very much, but, again, I don't have quite the same pangs of separation as he seems to.

But what these two experiences have reinforced for me is that it isn't about me. It isn't about how I feel about each situation. It's what my sister-in-law and Jonah, respectively, are feeling and the simple things I can do (such as an email or a phone call) to ease their burden somewhat.

I tend to be very "me-focused" at times, and I forget to concentrate on the needs of others. And yet the irony is when we focus more on others' needs, our own burdens become lighter. There's a line from a song in the musical Avenue Q that says:

"When you help others, you can't help helping yourself."

I really do believe that. Case in point: I think about my relationship with Jonah every day. I think about how much we love each other, but I also think about the repercussions this relationship will have on my relationship with my religion and even God. It can be a heavy burden at times and can feel quite overwhelming. Jonah's birthday is coming up, and I have made him a gift (I can't tell you what it is because he reads this blog sometimes). Needless to say, it was a very time-consuming process, but it was so much fun to do and I was so busy doing something for him that I didn't have time to think about my own problems. The days I worked on his gift were so good because I wasn't focused on me at all.

When I was a missionary for the church, it was incredibly hard, but also very rewarding because it wasn't all about me; it was about the people I was serving. When I teach at school, I'm often so concerned about my students that my problems become secondary, and it's often good when that happens.

Now that isn't to say I think we should ignore our needs or problems. Not at all. But I think when we become over-focused on ourselves, we lose the big picture. Christianity is all about serving others. Christ was the ultimate example of that. I think the example of his washing his disciples' feet is such a wonderful metaphor for what his ministry was all about.

One of my favorite scriptures in the Book of Mormon is Mosiah 2:17: "...when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." We worship God by serving others, and one of the fringe benefits is that we are only helping ourselves in the process.

One of the scriptures shared in Primary this morning was Doctrine and Covenants 136:8, which says, "Let each company bear an equal proportion, according to the dividend of their property, in taking the poor, the widows, the fatherless, and the families of those who have gone into the army, that the cries of the widow and the fatherless come not up into the ears of the Lord against this people," which our Primary President boiled down into this phrase: "Take care of each other." (Reminds me of the line from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure: "Be excellent to each other.") The scripture was again quoted in Sacrament Meeting, only the word "company" was substituted with the word "ward," and I think you could substitute it with "person." I mean, isn't that what the gospel is all about; taking care of each other?

I realize I need to work more on putting others' needs before my own (not all the time, obviously, but more often than I am). I can be quite selfish, and so I need to work on that. I am an actor, after all, and actors can be very self-involved individuals.

That's one thing I love about Jonah, by the way. He is such a giving, generous, thoughtful person. That's certainly a quality I hope to learn more through him.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on selflessness.

In other news, I'm finally getting around to reading The Da Vinci Code. I find I'm liking it very much.

My ex-girlfriend wrote me back. She said some very nice things, and we hope to continue corresponding.

I'm getting my mom hooked on "24." I love that show.

A week from today, Jonah and I will finally get the chance to see one another and spend some time together after a two and half month separation. We're both excited about it, and we hope to have a fun trip together to Cedar City to see some plays at the Shakespearean Festival.

Anyway, that's all.

2 comments:

-L- said...

Thanks for the reminder about how important service is. I think you've got the right idea about life. It's just hard for me to remember it sometimes.

Death is something I've got to write about sometime too. It turns out being a doctor throws it in your face pretty frequently. (Who knews?!) Just today there was a very sick young woman who broke down sobbing while I was talking to her because she has terminal cancer. Whoa. Regardless of my faith in an afterlife, that stuff is upsetting. She was suffering a lot at the time and I think she may blame herself. It was just... horrible.

Anyway, thanks for an uplifting post!

Dave Walter said...

That's a great post. However, keep in mind that for someone in your position, being "me-focused" is to be expected.

When you're an emerging gay person who's in unfamiliar territory with regard to religion, family and relationships, there is, I believe, a perhaps subconscious need for reassurance and stability. To be more self-oriented during such a time is maybe a necessary psychological coping mechanism. Says he who is not a psychologist.