Friday, May 11, 2007

Struggling toward selflessness....

This is something I struggle with. I know my life needs to have a purpose beyond me and what I want. But, I am so selfish by nature. It really is all about me most of the time. So, I don't think about it all that often. But, occasionally, something tugs at my heart with conviction that I need to work on this.

About a year and a half ago I was going in the local Peet's to buy some coffee beans. I'd just done some grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. A homeless man approached me - not your typical 'spare-some-change', dirty, smelly, crazy, panhandler. But, just a seemingly nice, coherent, clean, down-on-his-luck guy. He asked if I had anything he could eat. He was waiting for a bus to take him somewhere there was work, but he hadn't eaten in a couple days. I was in a rush (I'm sure a self-imposed kind of rush). So, I pulled some pita chips and hummus out of the Trader Joe's bag and gave them to him. He was really grateful. As soon as I got home, I was kicking myself. We were just across the street from Trader Joe's. He had a backpack. Why couldn't I have taken an hour out of my day and taken him shopping for enough provisions to last a few days? Why didn't I take him to the BBQ restaurant next to Peet's and buy him a sandwich? Why? Because I am so friggin' self centered and so myopically focused on my own schedule. That's why.

I vowed that day that the next time an opportunity presented itself to help someone in need that I was going to do a better job of stepping up. So, yesterday an opportunity presented itself. And, I didn't completely weasel out this time. I pushed myself a little further out of my comfort zone. I let myself be inconvenienced...a little.

But, again, I'm left with the feeling I could have done more. I could have dug a little deeper.

So, I get to think about what I would do better next time. Hopefully, there will be a next time. And, I get to think about how I might be a little more intentional about reaching out to people in need, rather than just waiting for opportunities to present themselves once every year or so. And, I hope for the wisdom to be able to be generous with utter abandon while avoiding putting myself in danger or becoming an enabler. Selflessness with boundaries. Or, is losing the boundaries a part of becoming selfless? I don't know. All things to ponder.

And, strangely, I find myself full of worry and hope for two people I don't even know, whose lives intersected with mine for a brief moment. I hope and pray they will find their way.


CyclistRick said...

I do not think anyone who knows you will agree with your self-assessment. Your are the least selfish person I know. I am sure we all can do more, the problem is there is so much to do and we need to manage how much we try to take on ourselves. I am proud of what you did yesterday, and I am sure the one you called for information and assistance will agree that you went the extra mile and then some (and she does not know about the further actions at the desk and elevator).

You need to stop kicking yourself so much, feel good about what you have done, and have the inner peace that you are doing what you can.

chatterbox said...

c-rick - I think you are a bit blinded due to your amorous feelings towards me :) Seriously, though, I'm even selfish with you. I let you do all sorts of stuff for me and hardly do half as much for you in return.

Maybe I am too hard on myself. But, the fact that I feel convicted about it probably means that I have a shortcoming in this area that I need to keep working on.

lauren said...

everyone's selfish. i think it's instinctual. people have different levels of selfishness.

even when you think someone is "selfless" they're still being selfish, because the thing they're doing as a "selfless" person still gives them a level of satisfaction or happiness and that really is selfishness as well. you want to feel good about something and that's selfish, so you do things to help others.

at least that's how i look at it from a working mom standpoint. being a mom teaches you a lot about being selfish. you think a lot about these things.

when i was younger i worked in a homeless shelter on polk street in the city and people always asked me why - it was because, really, it made me happy to help others and that in itself is selfish.

same thing with the volunteering i do at school now - makes me feel good and happy when you get down to it.

anyhoo, my .02.

Chris said...

We have a lot of panhandlers in Austin and it has sort of soured me on needy people in general.

Last weekend, there was a lady panhandling at an intersection in South Austin. The light before had just turned red as we were approaching and she was walking back toward the red light. There weren't any cars behind me right then. As soon as we passed, I looked back and she whips a cell phone out of her pocket and is reading a text message. Now, how does someone holding a homeless sign afford a cell phone with text messaging? One more incident that makes me think that every begger is a fraud.

I know that is not the case and that it is a horrible horrible attitude. So as you can see, you are far far ahead of most of us haters.

velogirl said...

I actually think you are one of the least selfish people I know, Sarah. Life is not about debits and credits that must balance at the end of the month. You give in many ways you don't even realize. And your probably also take in ways unknown to you. And sometimes the giving and the taking are one in the same -- that's a truly beautiful synergy. And remember, giving isn't just to those who "seem" needy or fit a specific profile.

chatterbox said...

thanks all! I've been on Mother's Day duty, so away from my blog.

lauren - yes, I agree we are all selfish. Even our best acts are tainted somewhat with self interest.

chris - yeah, lots of frauds out there detracting from the people who are actually victims of circumstances beyond their control. Hard not to be jaded.

velogirl - yeah, there can be some synergy to the whole thing. Cool when that happens. Hopefully that's how it is between me and c-rick.

bbElf (a.k.a. panda) said...

Lauren said exactly what I was thinking. I think that every creature is hard-wired for self-preservation, which seems selfish. There aren't many people who even bother to consider the lives of people who are outside their little sphere.

That said, I also agonize about whether I'm doing "enough", and I know how hard it is to reconcile the actions we take as individuals with the need that exists in the world. Every little drop in the bucket counts.

chatterbox said...

panda - yeah every drop in the bucket counts. hard to know what is the right amount of doing.

And, per VG's comment, it's important to spread the love around - not just look to help an obvious 'type'. Though, I think I spend most of my efforts on people who are just like me or who struggle with the same stuff as I do. For me, it's an even greater challenge to help someone who isn't like me - from a very different walk of life, who maybe has made some decisions I would not have, that got them to the point of need. Helping someone I would not choose for a friend (or maybe would outright dislike). That's the hard one.