I’ve become slightly obsessed with this word “care.” What it means, its etymology. How we do it, or don’t do it. How we’ve lost the art of care in dominate society. The word care is born from the words grief and lament. In its origins there’s a recognition that caring for ourselves or someone else involves bearing witness to their sorrow.
We so often use the word careful but we forget what it’s advising: to be full of care. To recognize the full impact of what we are doing to ourselves and others. To be fully present with pain, with loss, with grief (and with joy).
We also use the word care-less sometimes. Too often these days, people are careless. Both with themselves and with others. I, too, find myself careless at times. I have days where I sell myself out and pretend like something is okay, doesn’t hurt me, when it does. Or, where I drop the ball and forget to check-in with someone I love, someone who is hurting. Or, I fail to recognize the suffering of people or beings I have less in common with.
Yet, more and more, I have days where I can slow the fuck down, reconnect, step into my adulthood, and take responsible, caring action. This is not because I was born with an amazing ability to care (perhaps the opposite, as I use to enjoy biting the crap out of my older sister). This is because I have been and continue to consciously strengthen the muscles of sitting with discomfort, bearing witness, and building empathy. In other words, learning how to care, learning how to grieve, is a skill. A skill that can and must be developed. A skill that we all need now more than ever.
Care is important. Here’s what care looks like: Slowing down and checking in. Tracking, attuning to, what’s going on in each other’s lives. Having difficult conversations. Asking questions when we don’t know the answers, or might be afraid of the answers. Being with someone, or ourselves, especially when it’s difficult or uncomfortable. Being curious. Listening. Saying yes when we can. Saying no (or hell no) when it’s needed. Protecting. Connecting.
Here’s what care is not: Sending an occasional text. Tracking someone’s life through Facebook. Looking away. Rushing by. Doing nothing other than telling someone you are “praying for them.” Some of these things could be care if they’re adding to a real-life connection, yet on their own they do very little but appease our buzzing minds for a few seconds.
I’m not saying we can only care for those physically near us. A real-life connection could be someone you email or Skype regularly. It’s all about what we are truly investing, the time and energy we are willing to give (and receive). How much space we will make for each other. How we will open our hearts to each other. How we will bear witness to each others’ stories and pain.
As a friend said to me the other day, “Technology just supplements a caring relationship. It’s one piece that can be added. You wouldn’t just work on your physical health and then assume you’re mentally healthy or spiritually healthy. We spend time together, slow down for each other, think about each other, and check-in through text. They all work together.” Amen.