“She said she was just beginning to understand her selfishness.”
-- Sarah Orne Jewett, in “Miss Sydney’s Flowers”
I don’t think I’m any more selfish than the next person, but strangely enough, like Miss Sydney in Jewett’s story, I seem to be just starting to understand my particular type of selfishness. I’m not an unusually greedy or grasping person, and I do show a reasonable concern for others, so I don’t think my personal kind of selfishness is especially spiteful. No, what I’m beginning to see, ever so slowly and clearly, is that I am selfish simply because I’m consumed with concern about my “self”, the supposedly separate and distinct person I call “me”. I’m starting to appreciate the fact that most of my thoughts, for all these years, have been about this “self”, hoping to either protect it or enhance it or use it to stand strong against others. Somehow, over the long years of my life, I’ve steadily nourished the notion that nothing is more important than shielding and strengthening this small, separate self called “me” -- and now, in my 70’s, I’m just starting to understand how irrepressible this preoccupation has become. This, to me, is selfishness of a high order, and it’s something I want to hold up in a light, look at clearly, and then hopefully leave behind. This meager and insignificant “me” which has occupied so much of my time for 71 years must be set on the scrap pile where it belongs. The only “self” I want to support and make stronger in my senior-citizen years is the one called “the world”, the vast and mysterious marvel of which all of us are indissolubly a part. That would be a commitment, a dedication, worth undertaking, far more praiseworthy than the shallow pledge to protect and bolster a silly little “me”.