"Our age has produced few great personages -- those who become creative and original personalities are not the ones who live their own lives, but those who forget themselves in giving themselves for others" -- Paul Tournier
What is it we admire most in other people -- wealth, power, prestige? Not really.
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We may be a bit envious, or even resentful at times. But we don't really admire such achievements.
When we think of the "great" people of our times we more often identify persons like Sister Theresa, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Albert Schweitzer. Though we recognize that none of these people were without fault, we see in them a special quality that seems to transcend their human frailties.
This quality? You might call it selflessness: giving for giving's sake, with no thought of profit or advantage. And I like Tournier's words: "forgetting ourselves in giving ourselves."
It seems a strange idea. It almost suggests that, in putting aside our individual needs and wants, we are in fact more in touch with our individual potentials. We become more when we concentrate on us less.
Come to think of it, we all have probably experienced a bit of this in our own lives. We remember the time on the Stevenson Expressway when we let that woman squeeze in ahead of us, just because she needed to. We can recall the Christmas we collected canned goods for the local pantry. Then there was that year we bought groceries every week for the elderly man next door. We are reminded of the civil rights march we were part of, and the time we refused to cheat.
There was something about these experiences. We felt changed; somehow a bit "bigger." We had made a difference. Life seemed more real.
Not all these great people make it into the headlines. In fact, most probably don't. Every day there are great people who go about their lives unnoticed by any except those to whom they give. Yet their greatness is no less important.
Perhaps greatness is within all our reach. And I wonder if, in the grand scope of things, the greatness of forgetting ourselves in giving ourselves isn't what life is really all about.
If that's so, then the key to our sense of fulfillment and satisfaction as people must be in such selfless giving.
Our land is caught up in the frenzy of Christmas giving. I suggest that the gift that may be most valuable may cost the least. And yet, it will cost more than many of us are willing to spend.
Look around you. Each person you encounter is yet another opportunity to be the great person God created you to be -- a chance to give the gift of yourself.