I would have no idea how many times I have told people, “take care.” And I am sure there are just as many people out there who have said the same thing to me: “take care.” It is very much like the phrase, “how’s it going?” Most of the time I hear someone ask me that question, I assume it is not a real question. It is a figure of speech---something we likely are to say to someone we know as we pass him or her on the street or in the hallway.
I am not against this act of cordiality. I just don’t assume it means much more than that---people being cordial to one another. It is an extended form of “hi.” It is not a negative thing and I am not complaining. In fact, I know the two phrases can become quite meaningful with the right kind of eye contact or voice inflection. If I actually stop, look someone in the eyes and ask, “how are you,” with the right kind of voice, I am sure there will be an honest answer.
And if I look at someone a bit more intently and say, “take care,” I am convinced that other person will receive those two words with some impact. Intellectually I know that the language of “care” is really the language of love. Of course, it is not the passion of romantic love, although care is a part of that too. Caring is an encompassing, public kind of love. I can care about multiple people out in public and that is perfectly acceptable.
I was prompted to think about this when I was re-reading a section of the book, The Active Life, by my friend, Parker Palmer. Palmer is a fellow Quaker and has been a friend for decades now. His insights about care struck me a profound. I would like to share a couple lines from that book and, then, reflect a little on what it means to me.
Palmer says, “Caring is also action freely chosen. But in caring we aim not at giving birth to something new; we aim at nurturing, protecting, guiding, healing, or empowering something that already has life.” I agree with the first point Palmer makes, namely, caring is an issue of my free choice. This means I can never be forced to care. I could be forced to pretend to care. Our society does this all too often. I can fake care. But there is no heart in that.
Authentic care has heart in it. That is because authentic care---real caring---is a love word and love is from the heart. This becomes clear when we look at the rest of the Palmer quotation. Interestingly, Parker says that caring does not give birth to something new. Caring is about that which already exists. I can care about other people. I can care for nature---for our environment. I like how Palmer details authentic caring.
I like the five words he uses to detail the act of caring. Caring is nurturing. Probably, the ultimate experience of that is maternal caring. I suppose all of us from time to time just want our mothers! Nurturing care always seems like care that holds and nestles us in loving arms.
Secondly, Palmer says that caring is protecting. I think about the passage from the Old Testament where God is imaged as a mother hen and we gather under the protective wings of that divine chicken! God protects. Caring offers safety. No human gets too old or to0 independent not to need this kind of caring.
Thirdly, Palmer rightly notes that caring guides us. I think about the care parents have for their children. I watch my daughter take care to teach her little one how to go down the stairs. She is offering to him a form of guiding care that is, at the same time, protective.
In the fourth place, Palmer talks about caring as healing. I suspect this is one aspect of caring that many of us would not have thought about. When you think about it, however, caring is healing. To care never intends to hurt. In fact, it is when we are hurting that some form of care is so welcome. No doubt a huge amount of the caring that goes on in our world is some form of healing care. Think about all the work that nurses and others in the healing professions do on a daily basis. Simply put, they care.
Finally, Palmer talks about caring as empowering. This is huge. Too many folks in our world are marginalized and rendered impotent because no one cares. And this can lead the people themselves not even to care about themselves. Too often, folks don’t feel like they deserve to cared about or cared for. They lack a sense of their basic human dignity.
This brings me back to spirituality and my own sense of the Holy One. In my theology God is the ultimate caregiver---the ultimate Lover in the world. We were created in the image of the divinity. Based on this, we all have some form of divine dignity. This means we should never care less. And certainly, we should not be careless! Simply put: take care!