The etymology of the word “care” includes the concept of bearing a “burden.” The phrase “not having a care in the world” comes to mind. Someone who is “care free” has no burdens to shoulder. Logically, then, we must conclude that a person who truly does care is also someone who is burdened. But most of us probably don't think this way when we think about caring. We rarely consider the people who matter in our lives as being a burden to us. We love them. Therefore, we care about them. Therefore, they are not a burden.
Neighbors may look at our family struggles and pity us for the load we are carrying. But our loved ones are a load that we happily accept, and we resent the idea that they should be referred to as a “load” at all. “He ain't heavy, he's my brother” is the perfect phrase which captures the virtue of caring completely while ignoring its weight entirely. So ultimately it is our love for others that really becomes the underlying virtue, which totally cancels any thought of their being a burden to us. Love brings caring into the ironic-sounding spotlight it deserves: a sort of carefree caring if you will.
While we might dismiss the notion that a loved one could also be a burden, we can still appreciate how some relatives, as much as we might cherish them because they are family, can be a handful at times.
I recall a long conversation I had with a woman after her four children had grown into adulthood and moved away from home. This was a woman who loved being around kids, especially babies. My impression was that her “empty nest” wouldn't be much of a syndrome for her as she was already practicing for the day she would become a grandmother. I was so sure about her feelings toward offspring that I was thoroughly shocked by her response when I innocently asked if she missed having toddlers running around the house.
Without a moment's hesitation she replied, “Children can be a huge burden.” My face must have betrayed my amazement since she quickly added, “Don't get me wrong. Having a baby is a most precious moment in a mother's life. Nothing else comes close to bringing new life into the world. But when they grow up, some sons or daughters can become an enormous disappointment and a heartache. Not that we mothers love them less. After all, our hurt is as much for them as it is over them. But when they're little, you dress them up and you take them by the hand to church and they follow. You pray that they will keep going to church when they're on their own. And when they don't, it's a burden. You can't help but wonder if you failed somehow. You worry because that's what we mothers do. But you worry more when the values you assume you've passed on to them seem to disappear. You take comfort in telling yourself that they are still good people and maybe even better people than if they were churchgoing hypocrites! But you must admit you'd be happier to know they are practicing their faith more often than just at Christmas and Easter services. So, you pray more and hope more and try never to nag them about this, God forbid. For us moms, the real burden behind caring comes when we're torn between 'should I speak up' or 'should I keep quiet?' Maybe we surrender to silence too soon. I don't know.”
What do mothers do when it comes to the virtue of caring about their children? They practice the three maternal “cross” virtues of faith, hope and charity: They make the sign of the cross in faith, they cross their fingers in hope, and they try not to become too cross with their kids out of charity.
Happy Mother's Day to all the burden keepers who never stop caring.
For Holy Homework: On a small piece of paper, not in a phone text message, let's write these three sincere sentences:
Dear Mom, thank you for caring.
I'm sorry for the times I've been a burden.
I love you.
At the local post office, let's put this note in the snail mail to mom sometime this month, preferably before Mother's Day, but after that date is OK, too. She won't mind. And if mom is no longer with us, let's write this same note without signing it, and, in her honor, deliberately “leave it” in a pew at church, or “misplace it” on the break-room counter at work, or simply “shelve it” in plain sight on any aisle while shopping. Someone will eventually chance upon it, read it, recall their own mom, and enjoy a more blessed, less burdened day for the discovery.
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