Next week Kendal at Home will host a special session, Spirituality, Well-Being and the Wholeness of Life with Professor Alan Kolp on Tuesday, November 9 at 2 pm. Alan Kolp is a Board member of Kendal at Home and has shared the following guest post that originally appeared on his blog earlier this year.
I serve on a board for a home health care organization. It is Quaker affiliated, so I am happy about that. It is called Kendal, which is meaningful to me. I know Quakers have been giving some focus to how people are cared for as they get older. Many Quakers built retirement centers in the 1960s and 70s---as did many other organizations both church-related and for profit. Like all things, there are different philosophies and ways of going about care for the aging. Kendal is special to me because of the Quaker values, such as respect for the individual, integrity and generosity and so forth.
I don’t know for certain, but I am confident it is called Kendal after a city in the north of England on the edge of what is called the Lake District. I have been to Kendal multiple times and it is one of my favorites in a lovely part of England. It became a major Quaker center in the 17th century. Quakers established a fund to care for their members who were imprisoned or suffered at the hands of the political authorities. Quakers were not part of the establish church, i.e., the Church of England (Anglicanism). Along with other “radical reformers,” Quakers paid a price for their faith and way of life. I can say, it is much easier being a Quaker today!
I share this much because my involvement there precipitated my thinking about care. It is a word people use easily and often without any thought. No doubt, a great percentage of our population think they care or even care a lot. But I also think about the phrase, “I couldn’t care less,” and how often I have heard that. In fact, the phrase makes me shudder. To tell someone you couldn’t care less is to dismiss her or him. It is a clear announcement that the person does not count and is shoved to the margin.
I am confident there have been times when I have acted out that phrase, even if I did not literally utter it. When I ignore or marginalize someone, effectively I am proclaiming, “I couldn’t care less.” I am saying even if I tried, I cannot care about you. I don’t intend to give you the time of the day---much less anything else. I have no intention of sharing, helping or doing anything that make your life better. Go away! You are on your own. And I couldn’t care less whether luck comes you way or not. I might as well say to the person: “good riddance!”
Of course, those words seem harsh. No wonder most of us think of ourselves as caring individuals. “I wouldn’t do that,” we convince ourselves. It is much easier to live with ourselves if we can position ourselves that way. This is especially convenient if I have some things I don’t want to share. If I don’t care, then I am not vulnerable to your needs or desires.
If we flip this and look at the phenomenon of care, we recognize that to care is to become vulnerable. Instead of closing down, we open up. We unclench our hands and offer a hand to another person. To care is to park our ego to the side and focus on the other. To care is to introduce the element of risk into our lives. We expose ourselves.
I like to think about care from the perspective of dynamic. Dynamic means a process implying movement and change. I know it is rooted in a Greek word that means “power.” In fact, our English word, dynamite, comes from that. It is funny to think that a dynamic person is dynamite---but that is exactly where this word takes us. This has some interesting implications, if we pursue it.
I believe the dynamic of care makes our life together tangible. Put another way, to care is to reach out and touch someone. It might be a literal touch or a figurative touch---either one is welcomed as a sign of care. For example, at the end of a recent board meeting at Kendal, which culminated with dinner, the CEO approached me and gave me a hug. Few words were exchanged, but the message was clear and appreciated. She cared. That is so simple and so profound. She could have given me a million dollars and I don’t think I would have felt better.
At one level, I would have said that I think she probably cared. But she enacted it; she embodied it and gave a gift. Maybe that is the direction of the dynamic of care---it is always toward gift. To care is to give a gift and say to the other person, “You belong; you matter and your life is valued and valuable.” To say “I couldn’t care less” communicates to the other that you don’t belong, you don’t matter to me and you are of no value to me at all. It is a form of exclusion.
It is not surprising that care is central to so many issues in our current times. It applies to issues of race, gender, justice, violence and family. I know that care is actually a form of love. To care is to choose love. If we don’t care, we sow seeds of exclusion, stereotyping and dismissal. We create categories of untouchables, enemies and foreigners. I am convinced this is not what God had in mind. And this leads me to the spiritual root of care. Any of us who claim we are spiritual take on the privilege and burden of care. We do it willingly and gladly.
In the end the dynamic of care leads us to a thank you to God and all the others who do care.