I am suffering from a surfeit of care. I really care. A lot. About a lot of things.
I care that the climate is changing, fast, and that people and animals will die as a result – are dying already, as refugees flee from a war accelerated by drought, and new famines begin in Southern Africa, and as ice melts in the Arctic at a pace never imagined. (I care also that I never managed to visit the Arctic before it melted, but I am not so sure now that I believe any longer in the great education of travel. I worry about going anywhere because I think I might be too sad at what has already gone).
I also care that these changes mean not only death of beings but death of ideas: the knowledge of the seasons, the patterns of the past, the ability to feel a part of nature rather than its enemy.
I care that governments here and in many places have turned away from valuing people and the things that they can build together, and have disassembled and partitioned and sold the very things that make society possible: eductation, health care, access to water, access to knowledge. I care thus, about policy and procedure, and the devil in details of governance documents and institutional arrangements and public oversight. I care about principles, and I will argue them based on careful research.
I care about my students and try to show them a world of ideas that is beyond their own experience; and in teaching them about the hopefully still expansive possibilities of the world I try to convince myself of the same. I care about the ideas themselves: I want them to see that the world, even the material and technical world, is formed of ideas about how to best go about being in it; and even when it appears fixed, it is always changing.
I care about my family, about teaching my daughter things that will help her survive in an uncertain and perhaps incoherent world. I try to wire into her brain the old stories and the new ways, confidence in herself and practical skills and empathy, because surely she will need it. I try also to live gracefully and lovingly alongside the In-House-Hacker, even though I’m so swamped with care that I must sometimes seem bereft.
I care about birds, and toads, and plants, and trees, and forests and animals and people I have never met and never will. I am the result of a globalization of knowledge and the victim of a globalization of care.
And all this care keeps my heart in my throat, makes my skin prickle with sensitivity to every news story about another outrage. It makes me grieve for a certainty I never believed in, to hope for transformations that I am sometimes fear that I am simply too frightened to force through myself. I worry that I am not doing enough, with every plastic tray I purchase in opposition to my clear desire to live a sustainable life, with every petition I sign knowing it won’t make a difference. With every demo I march on, even. I worry that it is all sound and fury. Because I really, really care.
And somewhere deep down I wish to be released from this care. I wish I could simply detach from the problems of the world, perhaps by ceasing to be an optimist and assuming that I could (WE COULD) never solve them anyway, so why bother. Or maybe by becoming a hedonist and floating away on a cloud of pure experience, unsullied by critique.
But in the here and now, and inside the only mind I have, I’m struggling not to be submerged. Struggling to find a thread and a story that associates rather than dissociates, that integrates and grounds and makes the world meaningful – or makes a new world seem possible, even in the ever-present wreckage of the old.
I don’t know how to do it, but to turn heartache to a song, fear to determination, anxiety to optimism. I don’t know how to do it but to to keep swimming, keep kicking, keep breathing and moving and loving. How do you do it? How do you keep afloat?