Caring gives us meaning, protects us from loneliness and drives us to achieve. Caring wakes us up in the night, pulls us apart and leaves us so tired that we don’t care anymore. Until we do.
As the philosopher Nel Noddings wrote, “It is clearly impossible to establish a caring relationship with everyone in the world.”* But where do you draw the line? If we care for loved ones, must we also care for neighbors we hardly know? If we care for a garden or a pet, must we care for all living things? And what about things? Is it time for spring cleaning? Is there dust under the rug?
Sometimes we care for a favorite place. We pick up stray wrappers from the lawn. This tree, this room, his view from the window are reassuring to us. Then again, when I am writing, I may forget to look out the window. It is already dark out and I never walked outside. How well do we care for ourselves?
In the Dominican tradition, we search for truth in all its dimensions. How do we care for the students and teachers and artists and scholars who are learning from one another, remembering the past and imagining the future? How do we care for ideas?
I had a friend and mentor, a revered professor of social work, who seemed to care for everyone he met. He was very humble. He was approaching fifty when he decided to take up ballet. He wanted to empathize with his students by experiencing the difficulties of learning something new. “I can fake anything in words,” he told me, “but there is no faking ballet.”
So caring is the great challenge in returning to college– or perhaps the great challenge in living. How do we keep on caring for others, for the environment, for ourselves and for ideas? How do we find the time to play with our kids and to visit our parents and to celebrate the holidays and to shop for groceries and to do our homework and to pay attention to the news? Maybe the spring cleaning will wait this year.
*Nel Noddings, Caring: A Relational Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, 3rd ed. (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2013), xiv.Lorrie Gardella
Vice President of Professional and Graduate Studies