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On care

Care is such an interesting word. In our fast world of clicks and likes and 26-hour work days, I'm not sure whether that word actually has a significant place in our vocabulary. It feels too delicate, too intense. It implies time, a depth of feeling. In the last couple of years, we've talked about "care-givers", as most of us learned to nurse our loved ones. We've said "take care" at the end of every conversation, to the extent that it has lost all meaning and become just one of those platitudes that seem appropriate for the times without having to think too much about it. We send "care packages", and we advocate "self-care". 

But handling something with care implies fragility. Most of us probably feel that way, especially now. But as we chase the "new" (or is it really just the old?) normal again, and thank goodness for it, have we left any space for fragility? For healing from an experience that left marks that won't go away anytime soon? I was telling a friend recently that I try my best to be gentle with everyone now, because – as always, but now more than ever – I have no idea what they might be going through. It isn't easy, but we can try.

In the last couple of (or perhaps many) years I've been feeling a bit purposeless, a sort of existential does-anything-matter unsettling feeling. Google tells me that having a sense of purpose leads to meaning, happiness, and overall satisfaction. It's also, apparently, a lifelong process. This feeling of being tossed about, or just going on, without knowing where I'm headed isn't something that was necessarily negative. It is, in fact, how my blog's name was born – an assertion that we can't predict or control the future, and it's best to make the best of now, put one foot in front of the other, and be present in the journey. I'm not sure if it was the complete inability to see what the future held during the worst of the pandemic, or whether I'm just more jaded as I get older, but it seems hard to follow that philosophy at times.

I've been thinking hard about what gives my life meaning. A lofty question, true. I think in the past perhaps it was following my heart, however challenging that was, but the practicalities of adulthood don't seem terribly suited to that path. Every once in a while I try to come back to it, because denying my heart hurts. But I haven't yet found a balance between doing what I want to do and what I should do. As Anne says in Anne of Avonlea, "All your life you'll find yourself doing things you don't really want to." My heart, like Davy, says "Watch me", but things don't often end up the way I expect. Do we just oscillate between gratitude and resignation, chasing ever-elusive "happiness"? 


Happiness is so short-lived. How long have you ever been genuinely happy in one stretch?  
About four hours. [...] I was happier in those four hours than during the four days that followed. But looking back I'm happy to have had those four days too. Do we only decide in retrospect that we've been happy? Don't we notice when we're happy?

 – Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop

I've been thinking more about words and ideas, if nothing bigger, that might feel meaningful to me. What kind of a life do I want to live? What kind of a year will I look back on and think, ah yes, that was a satisfying year? I came up with three words: stories, people, care. 

Stories is easy: I like reading them, writing them, hearing them, watching them, but especially living them. This is why months of mundaneness don't sit well with me, which is not to say there are no stories in the comfortable life. I just haven't been able to find them. (Google also told me that the stories we tell about ourselves and our ancestors indicate a rise in overall satisfaction!)

People is a tough one. Friendships and networks change so drastically in adulthood, as we all get busy with our lives. For those who move away, it seems like a mammoth task to meet new people in a meaningful way, and even harder to make lasting connections. Hopefully we all have a few friends and family to lean on, but I realised those moments with people, especially in groups where I felt a part of something, was generally associated with greater satisfaction for me. So one of my goals is to find new networks (in a very non-LinkedIn sort of way). I have gained great joy from some virtual interactions due to shared interests discovered recently, but I'll keep working on this one.

Finally, care. I thought a lot about this word before writing it down, because it felt like anything would be worthwhile and meaningful if it was done or experienced with care. I wrote about writing with care for an assignment for my art criticism class, and a few weeks later, coincidentally, one of my clients used that word about my writing and work. It felt like the best acknowledgement of time and effort and feeling that I could have put into what I do. 

And I thought, isn't the opposite of apathy care? The opposite of a mundane daily task, or of a superficial encounter, or of thoughtless words? I often feel like even chores equal care – people tell me to outsource everything, but I like keeping my kitchen clean; taking a dusting break and peeking into nooks; making my own food. Sometimes, though, caring becomes burdensome. It takes effort, it takes time. It often goes unacknowledged, and it sometimes feels pointless in hindsight.

If I learned one thing during my recent travels, it's to carefully choose the things I care about, and sometimes that really is just myself. It's not easy to give up or be indifferent to the rest, though, and stories never arose from apathy anyway. 

Perhaps I can find ways to care, positive empathetic ways, about the smallest assignments, the most banal tasks, and the most fleeting encounters. Perhaps caring about something even though I don't know why will lead me to something satisfying.

Perhaps all of this together will spell purpose.

Comments

  1. All of this. I feel every morsel. I'm on this journey with you.

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