17 December, 2009


I am currently on holiday, visiting my family in Missouri.  I will not be returning to my home, nor do I plan on writing a subsequent blog until after the Christmas holiday.  With that said, I wish you all a very, merry Christmas shared with, and surrounded by those you love.
Earlier today, I went with my dad and mom to see the movie “Invictus,” directed by Clint Eastwood and staring Morgan Freeman in the role of Nelson Mandela.  [This is not a movie-spoiler.]  Although I knew the movie tied the leadership of Mandela to the success of the South African National rugby team, I was unaware of the movie’s
awe-inspiring portrayal of the power of forgiveness under the example of Mandela.

The movie begins with the release of Mandela from prison and the fall of apartheid in South Africa and then quickly segues to ultimately portray Mandela’s life during his term as president when he campaigned to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup event as an opportunity to unite his countrymen.  The movie beautifully and eloquently displays the powerful tool that forgiveness became in the ability of one man to unite an entire nation.

In the movie, Mandela offers to the captain of the rugby team (played by Matt Damon) a handwritten copy of the poem ("Invictus") that he accredited for sustaining him and causing him to prevail even when he was at his lowest points during his 27 years of imprisonment.  Below, I offer a copy of this poem.

As background, the poet, William Ernest Henley, at the age of 12 became victim to tuberculosis of the bone.  The title of the poem, “Invictus,” is a Latin word which translates to mean "unconquerable” or “undefeated."  Henley penned this poem in 1875 from his hospital bed after having his leg amputated as a result of his condition.  This poem was first published in 1888 in Henley's Book of Verses, where it was the fourth in a series of poems originally entitled “Life and Death (Echoes).”


Out of the night that covers me,
     Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
     For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
     I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
     My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
     Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
     Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
     How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
     I am the captain of my soul.

- William Ernest Henley (1849 - 1903)

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Copyright ©2009.  All rights reserved.

10 December, 2009

Selfishness and Giving

On an airplane a few weeks back, I was sharing with my partner about how much I loved my family’s Christmas traditions – the getting together, the reading of the Christmas story, all of the playful hijinks, and always, always, always the discovery of who will now hold the honor of receiving a rather sadly-made version of Mary & Joseph that has been passed around within our extended family for something like 15 years now
(along with the more recent addition of their accompanying “travel diary”).  But I think I may have surprised him when I also told him about my selfishness and why Christmas had, in years past, been somewhat of a let-down for me because of my expectations around gift giving (or to be more precise, gift receiving).

Don’t get me wrong – I love to give to others.  I love to give my time, my support, my money, and unexpected gifts as an expression of my love.  For the better part of my life I’ve been a giver and I’ve learned that giving does return a joy to me that surpasses other joys I’ve known.  But being a giver has never changed the fact that I am also selfish!

In many ways, I think that being selfish has served me well in life, allowing me to see that if I don’t first ensure that my “cup is full,” I will have nothing left to give to others.  I can’t take care of another if I can’t first take care of myself.  If I’m not ensuring my own mental and emotional stability, how am I to help another in need?  In that vein, I believe that being selfish is something that more people should learn.  Not a selfishness that just takes – but a selfishness that takes care of one’s own needs first.

In reflecting on the upset I felt related to gift-receiving, or lack thereof, I realized that a very simple shift in my expectations could make a world of difference for me and transform my upset into complete joy.  In the past, when it came time to open my presents, I was focused on the number of presents I received.  I was also focused on the gifts themselves and not on the hearts of those who had given to me.  This could have possibly been due to the obligatory nature that I felt events such as Christmas and birthdays represented for me.  Those had both come to represent times in which I felt a need to give out of obligation rather than giving solely out of my love for another.

My shift in view was simply to choose to give to others out of my heart’s desire to bless them.  Coupling that view-point with choosing to expect nothing from anyone, I realized that anything I received would be a welcomed sign of love and affection on the part of any who gave.

Armed with my new points-of-view, I am now ready for Christmas – one filled with the love and joy of being with my family and friends whom I adore.
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Copyright ©2009.  All rights reserved.

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