Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The New Selfish
ME, ST. MALO, BRITTANY, FRANCE, MAY 2008
Here’s one of my favorite pictures of me, the one I use for the blog (duh!), but that is so little you can’t really see me. I’m on a portion of the rampart walk of the walled port city of St. Malo, in Brittany, France. Beyond the wall is the English Channel; the tide is out, the water calm and a beautiful deep shade of blue. It’s mid-May, and the air is clear and cool.
My daughter and I spent part of a day in St. Malo. We learned that eighty-percent of the city was destroyed in one single day of fighting near the end of World War II. You can see it, walking the perimeter of the town, the old up against the new up against the old. Weathered, centuries-old mossy stones connecting like puzzle pieces with modern concrete. Though I’ve read that some of it was repaired immediately, using the original stones. A gallant effort to preserve not just history, but their very homes.
THE OLD AND THE NEW, ST. MALO, BRITTANY, FRANCE
For me, it’s just the opposite. Tearing down history, but with no interest in rebuilding with the same materials. Case in point, putting up this picture of me, which is causing no small amount of internal strife. But, really, I keep telling myself, if Oprah can put herself on the front of her magazine every single month, surely I can, on occasion, start my post with a pix of myself. Why not?
Because as far back as I can remember, it was never okay to put myself out there, never okay to look vain in any way, or to like myself; not to mention shameful and downright sinful to be seen as self-centered, self-interested, self-absorbed, selfish in any way.
I’ll say right off the bat that vanity has never been a problem of mine. Just the opposite in fact (though I’m wondering right now if maybe it isn’t actually vain to write that I’m not vain… hmm). Nor had selfishness been part of my make up. Early on I learned to accommodate everyone; not only to put my own wants, needs and desires after every one else’s, but to flat out exorcise them. And I did a good job, I put them so far away, that most often I no longer knew I even had any. I dated, and had relationships and friendships with people because that’s what they wanted, and had no idea if it was what I wanted or not.
My sister, too. She married two different men because they asked her. She was young, she figured if they asked, she was supposed to say yes. In my early twenties, I had my heart broken by a man who pursued me until I fell in love. It wasn’t until decades later that I realized I didn’t even know if I had liked this person. When we talk about these things, my sister and I, we stare at each other speechless, and in amazement. We are, after all, smart, well-educated, worldly-ish women.
So how is it that some of us come into this world proudly displaying our peacock plumes while others of us are constantly busy either tucking the feathers neatly inside, or worse, plucking the colorful array lest we offend someone by being too vivid and vibrant, too brightly hued? How come some of us stand tall and assured, while others cower, afraid to look the world directly in the eye? And why is it that some of us slide from the womb singing me, me, me in every octave and range, while again, others blanch and cringe at the very notion, possibly shamed early on into silence?
One of the greatest gifts to come out of all the turmoil of the last year has been that I’ve had to begin to learn—after fifty-some years—to put myself first. I’ve had no choice. I’ve been so overwhelmed, and often in so much pain, that there was simply no way that I could do anything other than to be self-centered, and care for myself first and foremost. And in the necessity to be selfish, I’ve also become more visible than I’ve ever dared be, plus made more waves some days than a jet ski on a calm alpine lake. An antonym I’ve seen for selfishness is altruism. What I want to know is why it isn’t considered not just altruistic, but the height of altruism to put oneself first, to care for oneself, to want oneself to be seen and appreciated, to want the same for ourselves that we want for others?
I am not talking here about narcissism. And I am not talking about this new personal obsessiveness brought on by social networking, where people think other people want to read about every second of their lives, about their every mundane move. Where they are the center of some imagined universe. That’s another post altogether. What I’m talking about is something as different as night and day, and quite healthy… more akin maybe to self love, where we honor, care for, recognize, and nurture ourselves in the very same manner that we would others. Where we have every right to show up, and spread and flaunt our feathers, big, bright, colorful; maybe even looking not too bad on the French coast, softly content, the breeze blowing gently through the hair. Where we have not just the right, but the will to say no thank you, that doesn't work for me today, it might not work tomorrow, maybe it won't even work the following day. Or conversely, to say YES, definitely, I want that! Where we are just as important, not more so, not less so, but every bit as significant as the next person.
All I can say is amen, and right on.
And just for good measure, and to up the ante even more on my personal discomfort, here's another one...
Until next time...