Friday, February 19, 2010

What is selflessness?

After a good nights sleep I'm up and ready to do it again.  However there is a light at the end of this tunnel and it is called FRIDAY!  So glad.....tomorrow Ron is taking me to the city so I can see the showroom of a place that does bathtub resurfacing.  My 50+ year old tub is looking a little less than stellar.  It would cost a fortune to replace it with all the construction involved and I just had the tub surround retiled about a year ago so this seems like a good alternative.  I just want to see what it looks like and how hard it would be to clean. Home improvement never ends!  My little house doesn't even resemble what it looked like 40 years ago when I moved in.  Of course, neither do I  !!!!  

Lately I've been thinking a lot about characteristics I admire and hope to cultivate.  The one characteristic I most value is selflessness.  My mother was one of the most selfless people I have ever known and it is something I admired about her.  
“Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish to seek other than itself.” - Khalil Gibran
I know it is possible to be truly selfless because I have seen in demonstrated in the actions of others.  I remember my mother sitting on a river bank while her two aunties fished for hours.  My mother was anything but a fisherman or an outdoors woman but she sat there for hours because it brought pleasure to someone else. 

Selflessness means we act without thought for how we will profit or be rewarded. If we give help to others, but expect recognition or the favor to be returned, this is not a selfless action. True selflessness means we would do the action, even if it was never known to anyone else.

As hard as I am trying to cultivate selflessness into my own character I am finding it to be more challenging than I could have ever anticipated.  I find myself questioning my motives at times and having to stop and honestly evaluate my thoughts or actions.  

As I have written about my brother many times before it is not always easy to admit there have been times when I harbored a great deal of resentment toward him.  

His mental illness began when I was 18 years old and of course it affected an entire family.  Struggling to understand schizophrenia is difficult enough but living it with it is even harder.  I watched my parents resist coming to terms with the illness and even remain in denial as to the severity of it.  I have been so frustrated at times.  

Because my brother lived with my parents he could make it very hard to even visit them.  He would get very agitated if he was forced to share our parents attention with siblings or even grandchildren.  It was just often too miserable to be stay in their home for too long.  I resented being isolated from my mother and father.  

After my dad's death it didn't get any better but I moved my mother and brother closer to me.  Mike continued to make it difficult for me to be around my mother.  Mother and I worked around it at first by slipping off together to go shopping or on outings away from Mike.  But as my mother's health declined it became impossible to be near her without enduring the confrontations with my brother.  

Anyway....that is all in the past.  Now I find myself the object of his obsession.  I'm the person he feels he has left in the world.  He calls me 20 times a day.  His mental illness has become more manageable and we can talk and have a relationship for the first time in 42 years but sometimes I think it is more because he is no longer in competition for the attention of our parents.  That's when my resentment surfaces.....which I immediately try to squash.    

Because my parents were unable to face the reality of my brother's illness they didn't make arrangements for his care in their estate planning.  As far as they were concerned they had 3 children and everything they had should be divided equally.  My older brother and I realized a long time ago that we needed to deal with that issue on our own and agreed that we would use anything and everything remaining in our parent's estate to care for our brother.  So, once the will has been probated we plan to put everything in a trust to care for Mike.  He will remain in our parent's home (which so far has been workable and is a miracle in itself) but what I'm struggling with is that every now and then I feel that surge of resentment float to the top.  I hate it!  I want it to go away and I want to be a more selfless person.  I love my brother and want him to feel safe and secure.

In my quest to heal my own heart and to give my brother the love he deserves I am discovering that love is not like a bartering service at an auction. If we wish to love in a selfless way it means we must identify with others. This is a very different love than the human love that demands and expects things in return. Real love and friendship must involve a forgetting of self and a willingness to put others first.  When I feel that twinge of resentfulness I think about my mother sitting patiently on the river bank.


Linda said...

What an awsome post. I do believe mental illness is one of the saddest things humans face, whether themselves or in family members.

Bless you as you deal with his 20 phone calls a day. I would find that maddening but apparently his security is in you and he needs to hear your voice.

You and your brother are to be commended for such practical planning for the care of this wounded sibling.

oklhdan said...

Linda, how accurately your description "wounded sibling" for that is exactly how I think of my brother.

kenju said...

I agree with Linda.

It is very difficult to be selfless without slipping into pride about it. I applaud you for trying.

オテモヤン said...


Arkansas Patti said...

I try to never look for the motive behind a kindness. That the kindness is done is good enough. If I do something because it makes me feel good, does that make me selfish? Most likely a bit so, but in the process, a kindness was done.
Also, salvaging a bit of your self is imperative for both of you and will allow you to continue.
You all ready are a good person in how you care for your brother. Leave total selflessness to the rare folks like your mother. We do the best we can.

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