The greatest human capacity is the ability to love; this I believe. When a person learns to love, he receives a gift, a gift greater than the person himself. In society there are many definitions of love, but I am referring to the ability to put your own self and interests last while others’ come first. Loving is an outward expression of a person’s will and it is an expression that defines and refines the person. I think this is easier for mothers to learn because of the ability to bear children. I remember thinking that this is a slow journey for the mother: a little usurper makes himself known by hijacking your appetite, energy and drive while only a tiny multi-celled organism hidden in your womb. But I was also privy to those first butterfly flutters and found my love growing along with the child inside me. The first time I went into labor, my mother told me, “Remember, the pain passes, but the joy lasts.” How true! What wonderful advice: pain and sacrifice has a reward! As a mother, I receive instant and obvious gratification by looking at a child I helped to create. I have often been grateful for the lesson of motherhood; inversely, I have thought it is much harder for a man, but their path is a different one, and sometimes the reward not as instant. I once met a man who gave me a rare look at his path. He was in his early 40’s; he was morbidly obese, an uncontrolled diabetic with an enlarged heart, end-stage pulmonary obstructive disease and such severe vascular disease in his lower legs that he was constantly fighting infection. He was nearing the end of his life, needing repeat admissions in the hospital. My first thought was that it was repugnant that he was so overweight; why did he abuse his body so, eating himself into such a state? As I took care of him, he needed to talk and he revealed himself quite honestly. He explained he had always been heavyset even when he was young; he was terribly shy as a teenager; the only son with one younger sister. Food had always been his comfort, for being shy, awkward, and anything else. At the age of 20, both of his parents became invalids; he took care of them as well as running their farm, being the provider for all, and raising his sister who was much younger. When he was in his mid 30’s, his parents died and his sister married. Then, he started to help care for her children. Of course, his weight continued to increase and his mobility was growing more difficult. Then, it all caught up with him, and he was having trouble managing the complexities of his health care. The one who had taken care of everyone else was unable to take care of himself. And the final irony was that he was so heavy that it took multiple caretakers to care for him; his family loved him dearly but it was physically impossible for them to manage his care. It was clear they all loved him dearly, visiting often with small gifts, like colored pictures, from home, which he dearly missed. I was really struggling with how young he was, yet how old his body was. It did not seem fair that he who had given so much never found a partner to love and to love only him; he was now going to die, trapped in a decaying body. It seemed like failure. He never had anything for himself; seeking comfort from food seemed a small vice that was easily surpassed by all the good he had accomplished. Then I realized it was really me who was one with a deficit because I was being superficial: he had learned the most important lesson, he had chosen to put others first at each point in his life, a truth many people never learn; he deserved to be praised and at peace about the choices he had made. He was a rare individual; he was only forty but had given all he had to others without asking anything for himself; he did not feel sorry for himself, he simply doubted, humbly, whether he had done enough. Incredible! I felt thankful to have glimpsed such a rare example of selflessness; a person who directed his life’s energies and gifts outward. If only I could aspire to such a life of love: in his dying, he was more alive than the person who would never learn this truth; truly, I believe this is the greatest human capacity!
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