Congressman John Lewis was on the Daily Show the other night, talking about his experiences as one of the leaders of the Selma civil rights march 50 years ago. It wasn’t an in depth, hour-long interview, of course, but it was inspiring nonetheless. Whatever your political stripe, you have to admire someone who stood at the forefront of the movement for civil rights, and remained committed to nonviolent action even after receiving blows from Alabama state troopers so severe they “cracked [his] skull”.
The questions that always arise for me when I hear someone talk about an experience like this is, “How did he persevere? How did he move through the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain that must have felt overpowering? How did he find a way to keep moving forward, to keep faith, to keep coming BACK to situations guaranteed to cause MORE of that pain, more danger, and more immediate suffering?”
As the interview went on, Mr. Lewis kept coming back to one theme over and over. “I did this for future generations. I did this for the opportunities of those who would come after me.” And even though Mr. Lewis has had, by any and all measures, an undeniably successful life as a congressmen and living legend of the civil rights movement, you could tell in his demeanor that he really WAS, and continues to be, inspired to do this for the benefit of all humanity, not the benefit of John Lewis. The success he has enjoyed came OUT OF his work for the greater good. And again, you might not agree with his political view or his ideas for HOW progress is best achieved, but it’s hard to argue against the sincerity of his intentions.
After the interview was over, I kept thinking about this notion of living a life devoted to others; a life devoted to service; a life devoted to giving rather than taking for oneself. And I thought about how that idea might relate to living with diabetes. Now, I would never equate living with diabetes to living with racial inequality. But just because the burden we bear is nothing compared to the burden faced by Mr. Lewis and his colleagues, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from his example and apply it to our own lives.
I remember reading the comments in response to one of the first blogs I ever wrote for this website. I don’t remember what the topic of the blog was, but I remember the pain in it. It was from someone who had lived with complication after complication, and she was asking “What can I do? How can I keep living with this?” I was at a loss for days. What could I tell this woman? What advice could I possibly give? And I eventually settled on the same theme I heard from Mr. Lewis: Give to others.
Because when we work for others, when we attached ourselves to a cause larger than ourselves, OUR problems stop being the focus and motivation for our actions. And that can help us get through a great many hardships that might deter us otherwise. When taken to saintly levels, it can lead us straight into the violent billy clubs of angry 1960s Alabama state troopers trying to crush progress and equality. But even if we don’t reach the level of Mr. Lewis, we can use this idea. Even writing this simple blog has helped ME through some frustrating days. On more than one occasion I have had to force myself OUT of a funk to write, knowing that something is expected of me from others, and in the process of doing that I have been able to move past the pain of my own self-driven frustration and into the calm and equanimity of offering up my experiences as a small gesture of help for others.
There are so many ways we can give to others. Some of us might prefer something directly related to our condition — we might like to mentor young people new to this disease, helping them get onto the right track with it. We might enjoy working on projects aimed at advocacy, advancing medical research, or increasing public awareness and knowledge of diabetes. But it doesn’t even have to relate to diabetes. We might be drawn to working in outreach for the homeless, advocacy for disenfranchised communities, income equality, you name it.
So the next time you feel sorry for yourself, try this: Force yourself up off the couch, and find a cause you believe in. Then, just take one step toward working for that cause. Take one step toward helping others. It might just save YOU in the process.