Remembering: Part 4

Last week I got one of those emails that make your heart sink. I opened it and learned that my friend Heidi, a young 70-ish, had suffered a massive stroke. Within hours, I was planning to say goodbye.

I went to the hospital on Tuesday, and experienced the shock of seeing her unconscious body. Was the spirit still there? Where was it? The next day we held a puja for her, chanting the Saraswati mantra 108 times. I de-petaled flowers until midnight in preparation for the puja, thinking of the times Heidi and I had done flower prep for our spiritual teacher, thinking of her meticulous artistic sense. I tried to make a garland, Indian-style, sweating over the carnations as I attempted a 360 effect which I imagined would be soft against Heidi’s chest. As I tried to weave it together, the whole thing fell apart. I decided to let it go and stick with the petals.

It was a beautiful, meditative week, filled with the persistent reminder of the sacred, of something bigger. In the honoring of my friend, in the ritual of saying goodbye from the heart, Iremembered how wonderful it feels to be connected to the mystery of life, whether you call it God/Goddess, or Nature. I remembered how humbling it is to watch death proceed, because we really cannot understand it. But I also got lost in presence, and forgot POTS, disability, troubles and trials. I remembered something I had forgotten. Thank you Heidi, thank you for bringing me back.

Episode 3: Care Less?

Episode 3: Care Less?

I can’t tell you how many times I have received the suggestion from colleagues (male colleagues — there are few women in philosophy) that the problems I was having with burnout and dissatisfaction were due to the fact that I cared too much. I cared too much, so I worked too hard. I should care less. What does that mean? Why is caring a disadvantage? I chose a field I love because I care about it. I am a teacher because I care about human development. It is painfully obvious that so many of my students have had no one who cared for them enough to help them develop study habits, skills, passion, pride in their work, responsibility, independence, creativity, critical thinking. Should I be yet another who does not sufficiently care for them? I find it incredibly frustrating that being successful in a profession would require that I not care very much.

And yet, I see what a curse caring ends up being. Those who care are the ones who are expected to fulfill a thousand “service obligations,” (a contradiction in terms?) that others “aren’t very good” at fulfilling . . . aren’t very good because they don’t care!

To those who “assign” service work (another tradition in academia worth being suspicious of), I must say: Actually, it’s not a great honor to be assigned more and more uncompensated work to carry the weight of others who “aren’t very good” at it because they don’t care. Guess who is suffering from this situation? The very ones you think you are honoring! Guess who benefits? Those you find incompetent. Those who are apathetic. They are off the hook, and as a result get to have a little balance in their life, go for a bike ride, cook a meal, and have time with their families on the weekend. Those who you think do the best work, and of course do work you think you can get “for free,” are burning out and will soon be lost to you, your institution, and even themselves.