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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Giving Up

It's hard to think about things that we should give up in order to live the fullest, mostly because we become so attached to those things.

Yesterday, I spent two hours crying my eyes out- I watched the series finale of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."  In this episode, they built seven homes for seven families in seven days in Joplin, MO.  For those of you who don't remember, Joplin was devastated by a tornado last May.  In this episode, they featured seven families who had lost nearly all their possessions.

These families had next to nothing- they lost their houses, their furniture, their family pictures, and so many more items.  But what they had was love- a strong familial bond together, an appreciation for the time they share with their loved ones, and a gratitude for life.

When we give up our attachment to worldly possessions, we open up more space in our hearts and minds for the things that matter the most, the things that could never be bought or sold- love, bonds, hope, and happiness.  We gain a sense of freedom that we didn't have before, like removing an anchor that holds us down to any particular spot.

Giving up living in the past is another one of those things that can set us free.  What we go through in life and all of our experiences, both good and bad, contribute to who we are and how we view and understand the world.  We should never forget the past or the lessons we have learned as we go through life, but we should stop trying to live in the past.  For a while, I wanted to go back to high school and essentially do it over.  There is so much I would have wanted to do different, people I wish I hadn't lost connection with since graduation, and mistakes I wish I could have prevented.  It took me a while to get to where I stopped wishing to go back to the past.  I think one of the reasons we try to live in the past is because we believe it was the best part of our life, and the thought of nothing better ever coming again terrifies us.  But life is what you make it, and it can keep getting better and better.

The current present will someday be the past.  Time is constantly moving, and if we aren't living in the present moment, then when are we?  The past you might be holding on to was once the present, and if you ignore the present it will someday be the past you may long for in the future.  (Was that sentence confusing enough?)

We should also give up our sense of entitlement.  Believing that the world "owes us" is a heavy burden to carry.  The truth is that none of us are owed anything; the days we breathe are themselves a gift, and it's never promised that we will live to see tomorrow.  I once lived in an apartment building with a couple who believed the world owed them for the pain they had lived through.  They had suffered accidents that left them unable to work, and they would rarely leave their home.  Often, they would have music or the television on through the night (they would sleep during the day) with the volume up so loud that they couldn't even hear their doorbell.  Most of the time I tried to just ignore it, but once or twice a week I'd go and knock on their door to ask them to turn it down because it was 3am or so and I needed to get up for work at 6am.  I'd wait for them to answer the door, but they usually couldn't hear the bell over the television.  I called the manager, he tried calling them, but said he couldn't get through.  I wrote them a note once, asking them to please keep the volume down during the night because others in the building were trying to sleep.  They wrote me back, saying that I should "just get over it" and then listed all the ailments they felt.  The manager said he wanted to evict them because they generated a lot of complaints from other tenants and were often late on the rent, but every time he tried they threatened to sue for discrimination and he felt he had no choice but to back off. 

The point of the whole story is that the couple was absolutely miserable.  When I'd pass them in the hall, I'd smile and say hello, often ignored or met with a snarky chuckle.  If someone got on the elevator before them or didn't automatically hold the door (even if that person didn't know these people had an accident- which, other than the fact that they walked a little slower, you couldn't tell by looking at them) these two would get mad and make a comment about how rude that person was.

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.  This couple had come to believe that the world owed them since they had suffered through pain, but even though their situation is saddening, the world doesn't really owe them (or anyone else) anything.  When we give up the sense of entitlement that many of us feel from time to time, we release an invisible burden we have placed on ourselves.  Holding on to that sense of entitlement will usually lead to disappointment, because nothing is going to just be handed to us on a silver platter- we need to work for it, and appreciate what we do have.  Think about people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or other highly influential and successful people- nearly all of them started out with very little and built up their empire.  Even Walt Disney came from a poor farm family and moved to Los Angeles with nothing but a suitcase, $20, and determination to work his ass of until he achieved his goals.  Nothing is impossible unless we decide it is.

I hope this post hasn't come off sounding heartless- I always tried to help the couple when I could; opening the doors, holding the elevator, and offering to carry in their groceries for them.

 If you would like to help Joplin rebuild, check out their website:

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