Dear old and new friends,
Last week’s reflection mentioned that one of the major obligations of Islam was to give alms, to be charitable to the needy. Recall in motion pictures of the Near East seeing ragged beggars pleading, “Alms, for the love of Allah,” which surely reminded devoted Muslims of their obligation to be unselfishly charitable.
I’m going to piggyback on that Islamic obligation to reflect on a secret, that of being unselfish. But first a bit of frivolous background on piggybacking. More correctly the term is “pickaback” that dates back to the 16th century and refers to carrying a child or a person on your back. It may have begun with “pitching something or someone on your shoulders.” Our present corruption of piggyback began to occur in the late 18th century. Pitching part of another’s burden upon your back is ironically a good example of being unselfish.
By generously helping to carry part of another’s heavy burden you make their life easier. If the mostly invisible heavy burdens of poverty were instead clearly visible we might be more generous in our charity. The Teacher of Galilee calls his disciples, as did the Prophet Mohammed, to be unselfishly kindhearted to whoever is in need. I began this reflection promising the secret of how to be truly unselfish, which paradoxically is by being selfish!
Genuine generosity always comes from an overflowing heart, while less than true generosity comes from a guilty heart. An example of authentic giving, if I recall correctly, is a Jewish New Year’s custom where the host prays that the New Year will overflow with good things and blessings as he pours wine into a glass. He continues praying and pouring until the glass reaches brimful. Here any non-Jewish guests at the table gasp as the host continues pouring until the glass overflows and wine spreads out like a scarlet lake on the table cloth. Graceful, true unselfishness is always a joyously, vivacious overflowing of a brim, full heart.
True unselfishness requires being selfish! It demands being self-centered by treating yourself to something unnecessary but pleasurable—a new article of clothing, an enjoyable self-indulgence, a small extravagance or imprudent expenditure. By gifting yourself, strangely you protect yourself from the hazardous shadowy side of unselfishness—an unholy, fake martyrdom! You know the type: “O poor me, I’m bone tired doing for others, always neglecting my own needs. I’m the saintly, tirelessly caring mother, the hardworking father, who never gets a moment for myself.”
If you desire to escape counterfeit martyrdom and to experience holy joyous unselfishness, occasionally go out and do something nice just for yourself!