Where self is involved, there is no afterthought. Either we focus on us or we focus on others. Either way there is little left over to sift through when the deed is done. That is the nature of self; it commands all of our attention, becoming either a soft wrap into which we slip by whose warmth and security we are compelled to remain, not venturing out for anything or anyone, or it becomes wrap in our hands by which all who touch it are comforted, strengthened and benefited. Self is like a bubbling drink, full of carbonation. There is are only two ways to handle it. Leave it in the can so that it retains its full carbonation or open the can and drink it. Once opened, however, the dynamics of carbonation are changed. Drink it or lose it. These are the only choices.
Selflessness is an art. By nature none of us are really into it nor do we really aim to master it. It requires a change in us, something that puts away the old nature of selfishness and takes on a new nature of selflessness. Our nature is to keep “us” for us. Or, at the very least, share some but keep some. But, like that carbonated drink, sharing implies using, not retaining. To truly deny oneself, to die to oneself, requires an all or nothing effort.
In Ernest Gordon’s true account of life in a World War II Japanese prison camp, Through the Valley of the Kwai, there is a story that never fails to move me. It is about a man who through giving it all away literally transformed a whole camp of soldiers. The man’s name was Angus McGillivray. Angus was a Scottish prisoner in one of the camps filled with Americans, Australians, and Britons who had helped build the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai. The camp had become an ugly situation. A dog-eat-dog mentality had set in. Allies would literally steal from each other and cheat each other; men would sleep on their packs and yet have them stolen from under their heads. Survival was everything. The law of the jungle prevailed...until the news of Angus McGillivray’s death spread throughout the camp. Rumors spread in the wake of his death. No one could believe big Angus had succumbed. He was strong, one of those whom they had expected to be the last to die. Actually, it wasn’t the fact of his death that shocked the men, but the reason he died. Finally they pieced together the true story.
The Argylls (Scottish soldiers) took their buddy system very seriously. Their buddy was called their “mucker,” and these Argylls believed that is was literally up to each of them to make sure their “mucker” survived. Angus’s mucker, though, was dying, and everyone had given up on him, everyone, of course, but Angus. He had made up his mind that his friend would not die. Someone had stolen his mucker’s blanket. So Angus gave him his own, telling his mucker that he had “just come across an extra one.” Likewise, every mealtime, Angus would get his rations and take them to his friend, stand over him and force him to eat them, again stating that he was able to get “extra food.” Angus was going to do anything and everything to see that his buddy got what he needed to recover.
But as Angus’s mucker began to recover, Angus collapsed, slumped over, and died. The doctors discovered that he had died of starvation complicated by exhaustion. He had been giving of his own food and shelter. He had given everything he ...
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