Rachel Rossow has twenty-one children and more foster children than I can count. Though she would not acknowledge a distinction between the children of her body and the children of her heart, society would say that nineteen of her children were adopted.
All of the children Rachel chose to bring home were born with severe mental or physical handicaps. Some are mentally gifted while physically challenged. Others are physically gifted while being mentally challenged. And some are seriously challenged in all aspects of life.
When I came to know Rachel, I couldn’t help wondering how she met the enormous challenge presented by children with such diverse abilities. Trying to be as artful as possible, I asked her what she taught them. Rachel’s response went directly to the heart of the question I meant to ask, but could not articulate.
“I teach them all the same thing,” she said. “First, you have to get to know yourself. Then you have to learn to love yourself. And then, you have to learn to forget yourself in service to others.”
Knowing yourself, she explained, means understanding where you come from, who you really are, what gifts you were given, and what gifts you have to give. Loving yourself has nothing to do with narcissism and is the antithesis of ego. Loving yourself means embracing yourself as you are rather than as you wish to be. It comes from the understanding that our weaknesses are as much a part of our uniqueness as our strengths.
But to be bestowed with meaning, life must transcend itself. We have not started living until we can rise above the narrow confines of our personal concerns to the broader concerns of society. Ironically, it is when we forget ourselves that we do things for which we are most likely to be remembered.