I don't know what I'm doing or where to begin. This is supposed to be the first of forty-two reflections on Rick Warren's spiritual self-help book, The Purpose Driven Life.* Day One's message is what you would hear in Alcoholics Anonymous: This life we share is not about you.
Life's not about me: the thought first occurred to me in English class, junior year of high school, when we read Ernest Hemingway's "Indian Camp." A little boy Nick is taken by his father, a doctor, to witness a woman give birth but ends up seeing a man kill himself. Nick asks his doctor father whether dying is easy or hard, whether many people commit suicide, and so on. The little boy was preoccupied with death rather than birth, the opposite of what his father intended. The last line of the story reads, "In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, [Nick] felt quite sure that he would never die." That line haunts me, that first time, too, I'd seriously contemplated the brevity of life, realized life really does go on without me, that it's not about me.
But here I am, a person in this world, forehead perpetually sweaty in summertime, armpits agitated by heat on this Friday morning, when the living room is muggy and the light reluctantly breaks blue behind the leaves outside the window. My experience, this perspective, seems so integral to the world. How could this life, then, not be about me?
Giving up ego, being truly selfless, is probably the hardest thing to do in this world. The closest anyone has come to complete selflessness, I'd bet, is philanthropists and parents. I can't afford to be either right now. What I can do, however, is my best work today. Jesus said, "Today's trouble is enough for today" (Matthew 6:34). This day is a rental car. I've got it for twenty-four hours. With any luck, I'll get another tomorrow--but this moment today is all I'm sure of. Doing my best work for me means putting in the time to write and reflect, fulfilling my obligations today (meeting, school work, work work), and being good to the people I encounter. I'm not the best at this, but when I'm being good to people, I'm not complaining, gossiping, or indulging in any of that kind of negative talk I think will distinguish me from other people with all their problems--as if I don't have enough things to work on regarding myself. Samuel Johnson once wrote, "God himself does not propose to judge man until the end of his days." I could do as much today, which would help me, just a little, get over myself.
* Warren says his is not a self-help book. It's a self-help book.