This is a picture of me about 4 years old with a kitten. My father took slides and this one was so old and underexposed that I had to have it professionally dealt with to reveal even this much detail. But I like it. To me it shows that 4 year old Mary knew how to care – and that my care was acceptable.
To care – to take care – to care about – to care for…
Since I was a small child I have had the desire to care. This deep desire is found in many living beings – maybe all. It interests and disturbs me that when I express it, this desire to care has been sometimes met by others with a mixture of ambivalence, diminishment, distrust, even mocking or by suggestions that it is somehow inappropriate, excessive, misguided or a bit sad – rather than it being accepted as just the care that I desired to show.
My desire to care has, at times, been associated with a peculiarly negative image of mothering – as if I must be a smothering or insensitive mother, more concerned with my own needs and desires than the needs and desires of those I care for. I am sorry to say this has mostly come from men – rather than other women.
Yes – my experience of being cared for at birth and through my childhood was not ideal. The experience of Lemn Sissay’s was far worse, and yet it is clear that he cares deeply and has made a very positive impact with his caring. Yes – we can displace our need for care by attempting to care for others, not always meeting their actual needs – and it is essential to become aware of this. But is this all that is going on when others push back, belittle or criticise our care for them? Of course it is more complicated, involving individual histories and circumstances.
But is it sometimes that they are expressing a fear of the whole realm of care? Fear of their own vulnerability and need for care? Their own lack of care and caring?
To care is the foundation of love and of compassion. We need to talk more about caring, not just side-line it to the arena of care for the ultra-vulnerable – the very young, elderly, disabled and dying. We need to examine our own relationship with care. Do we care? What do we care about? How do we care? Are we caring enough? How easy is it to just not care?
We need to urgently look at our own lives through the lens of care – to begin to find the best ways to care for ourselves, each other and our whole environment. Each of us needs to more identify with Mother Earth – to challenge the misogynistic negative mother image that is insidious in Western culture and the relegation of care to “carers.”
It is often said that one needs to learn to take care of oneself first before being able to care for others – and there is some wisdom in this. But my experience is that it is more a case of slowly learning to include myself in my caring – to continue to care deeply about others, but also include myself in that care. Sometimes I need to focus more on caring for myself, when it clearly is not happening enough – but also to keep desiring to care about everything.