A Thing About Writing That Turned Into Something Else
Maybe you have foodie friends. You know, the ones who are hip to the new hot restaurants, the up-and-coming chefs, and the latest gourmet trends. Then there are the Swifties, who've recently added to their ranks thanks to the blossoming romance between a particular award-winning pop star and a certain tight end who happens to play for my favorite football team.*
Enter the “wordies.” We are the foodies and Swifties of the writing world. Some of us are journalists, others are poets, novelists, essayists, songwriters and more. We are the ones for whom words are craft. We get fixated on a random word for no apparent reason, examining it in the way I imagine a potter might do with a blob of clay. We are compelled to get our proverbial hands dirty, to squash that word and stretch it, to pound it flat only to gather it up, fold it over itself, knead it again, observe it from a variety of angles, then decide what exactly we’re going to do with it – or if we’re even going to use it at all. Sometimes it’s replaced after an exhaustive thesaurus search or by an editor who is less enamored with the word’s charms.
It wouldn’t be wrong to think such an exercise may stem from stumbling across a lengthy or complicated word – what Mark Twain called "five-dollar words" – or perhaps one that must be looked up in the dictionary thanks to an author with a more sophisticated vocabulary than mine, and sometimes it does. But at others, it’s the simplest word that begs complex scrutiny.
On a particular day recently, I was entranced by the word “care.” I cared about care, which is a plain, even quiet word that’s especially hardworking because it can be used as both a noun and a verb.In Old English, early versions of the noun “care” referred to sorrow, anxiety or grief, as illustrated by the notion of packing up your cares and woes in the song “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Later the word took on the additional meaning of oversight with a view toward protection or safety.
Be careful. Handle with care.
In other words, pay attention!
Likewise, the verb “care” meant to be anxious or to grieve, to feel concern for or interest in.
I care about you. Take care of yourself.
The word has become rather institutionalized by its attachment to the medical community – health care, primary care, intensive care, palliative care – where one certainly hopes we are handled with care, but that’s a conversation for another day.
The notion of caring has found its way into popular culture in myriad ways, including the sentimental, the funny, and the regrettable.
“When you care enough to send the very best…”
“So what? Who cares? (Fred Armison’s comic take on The View’s Joy Behar)
“I REALLY DON'T CARE, DO U?”(Zara jacket infamously donned by a certain first lady)
For now, I reclaim the word care as it relates to relational matters like friendship and love.Care is a close relative to the Italian cara, darling, someone cherished, as well as the Irish cara, meaning friend. In the Celtic tradition the Anam Cara is one’s soul friend, the one with whom we have a deep, intimate bond. The late Irish poet John O’Donohue wrote beautifully of this concept as “an act of profound recognition” in Anam Cara, A Book of Celtic Wisdom.
When we care for one another as in a deep friendship or a romance, there’s an unwritten, even perhaps unspoken (unless we take vows) covenant of caring for one another. We become caretakers. We provide TLC, Tender Loving Care.
Can we care too much? Sometimes, yes, but when we do it’s because we can’t help it.
Can we care too little. Sadly, also yes. Sometimes we try not to care so much out of self-preservation. There’s a mute kind of not caring. Much is implied, and much can be inferred from a silence that screams “I don’t care.” Which is why it’s often better to admit “I don’t know what to say” than to say nothing.
On this day, if you are burdened or overwhelmed, I hope there is someone with whom you can share your cares and woes. If you are carefree, perhaps you can extend a hand to another. Ideally, there’s room to treat yourself to some self-care. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. Sure, a spa day is great, but so is a nap, a cup of tea, a walk, a rom-com.
Even if you don’t care about the word “care,” there surely are people, places and things you do care about. Opportunities abound for meditating on that. Please find something to care about.
**As I was writing, news broke of a shooting in Kansas City as the Chiefs Super Bowl celebration was wrapping up Downtown in the shadow of Union Station and the WWI Memorial. I was quickly thrown into care mode, the kind where your heart breaks a little more, and you worry, and later become angry because you’re so sick of what guns are doing to our country. So many people I love and care for live in this Kansas City community where I have deep roots, where I lived longer than I’ve lived anywhere, where I raised my children, where I did a lot of my own growing up as an adult.
Many of us are in shock, deeply shaken. Others are numb because it’s all too familiar. I’m grateful my loved ones are safe and I’m heartsick for the families who cannot say the same. I am angry at the people who are in a position to do something and yet do nothing, the people in leadership who appear not to care.
Our family motto “Spectemur agendo,” which appears on the McAleer family crest, is Latin for “Let us be judged by our deeds.” How many times did my brothers and I roll our eyes when dear ol' Dad reminded us of that one, sometimes rephrasing it to “Actions speak louder than words.”
So, when the words, or lack of words, and the deeds of those in positions of power continue to scream “We Don’t Care” when children and parents and siblings and friends and lovers continue to be killed by guns in places that are supposed to be safe… When the F***ing Guns are valued above human life… Well, I just don’t even know what to do with that anymore. It's enough to leave a wordie speechless.
What I do know is that it hurts like hell to care, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.