I’ve been reading the posts of many of my blog followers this week. (I’ve tucked away my murder mystery for a while and will continuing editing it with a fresher mind at some later date.) These bloggers, from all over the world, are a caring, supportive group. In reading their posts, I sometimes come across a comment about family or friends who have let them down. People they love who should be there for them but are not.
This resonates within me because in my own life I often find myself searching for an understanding of why someone makes the conscious choice to take care of strangers before taking care of their own family, friends or neighbors. I look around me and I seem to be surrounded by people who openly display, what I term, “The Missionary Zeal” while ignoring the needs of those closest to them.
Next door to me is a family (mother, daughter, grandmother). The mother is in the hospital recovering from a serious operation to remove tumors from her lungs. She has a feeding bag and a tracheotomy. The grandmother recently has undergone two operations for a hip replacement. I often visit her and she confides in me. The granddaughter, a young woman in her twenties, is in her final semester for a nursing degree. Last month, the girl moved out of the house to live with a boyfriend just when her mother and grandmother needed her the most. There is no rift in the family. This girl visits her grandmother intermittently to drop off bills to be paid. In order for her grandmother to come home to recuperate, someone is required to be in the house. Instead, she has been placed in a nursing home. The girl’s mother will also need support when she finally returns home. This young woman will be a practicing nurse within the next few months, taking care of people incapacitated, sick and in need. She’s smart and personable and will surely do well. She’s at the top of her class and spoken of highly at the local hospital where she’s interning.
A close relative (with a degree in social work) is a big advocate of writing letters. A few years ago she sent an editorial to the local newspaper, touting the merits of letter writing as a lost form of communication. Apparently she is a prolific letter-writer and values communication. To me she sends a Hallmark card every so often, with a small note included. Over the past years I’ve called her home and her cell phone and left messages; sent emails, gone unanswered; emailed cards with lovely art and music accompaniment, unopened. She calls me every two months or so saying “We have to get together soon”. We live less than an hour from each other. When her mother was ill, I was there for her until she died. Yet her own daughter, the social worker, was nowhere to be found. She even bragged to me about visiting a local nursing home regularly with her son to brighten up the inhabitants.
When her children were young, I spent much of my free time with them. I was always there. They are adults now. Busy adults who never call or even send a card to remember a birthday. She’s taught them well.
I know good people, volunteers who travel regularly to disaster sights or impoverished countries. They do fundraisers for the children in far-away orphanages while in this state we have so many children needing loving homes. A local news channel features “Tuesday’s Child” each week about foster children looking for someone to love them. And we have homeless families in need of a helping hand. Yet, these good people take vacation time and pay their own way to other countries to offer help and sympathy.
Our nursing homes are filled with residents whose family’s hectic lives leave little time for them. They sit for weeks waiting for the occasional call or visit.
I see a future nurse who chooses not to take care of her own mother and grandmother. I see a social worker who espouses the value of communicating, yet barely takes the time to keep in touch with family. I see people alone in nursing homes and hospitals with no advocates to hold their hand and offer consolation.
It is rampant, this Missionary Zeal. I’ve observed it in my own family; my husband’s family; in the lives of our friends and neighbors. Seemingly good people who avoid making or taking time for those near to them while going out of their way to present a facade of beneficence to the world.
There are connective strands weaving their way through all of this – threads of denial, self-absorption and casual cruelty.
And what about those who are always there? I’ve observed, too many times, that they are taken for granted; their caring diminished in some way – “They have more time.” translated to: Their lives are not as busy as mine, not as important.
Just this week my husband Charley was talking on the phone to one of his relatives. He was discussing the fact that after eight years, his cancer was in remission. (Aside from a card or two, his relatives have never shown any semblance of support for him throughout all of his operations and treatments.) He was sharing a little of what these grueling experiences had entailed and said, “Clare has always been by my side, holding my hand, crying with me, being my advocate. She’s the reason I’m alive today.” Her glib response to him was, “You’re alive because of the medicine.” He was stunned by her blatantly callous attitude. Having observed many incidences of her callousness to him in the past, this dismissive response did not surprise me at all.
When Charley and I discussed this later, we marveled at the relative’s naiveté about dealing with a serious illness. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if this young woman’s husband was suddenly diagnosed with cancer and they had to endure the journey Charley and I have taken together. I wonder if it would make the marriage stronger as it did with us or tear it asunder?
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just easier for some human beings to be casually cruel to loving people. And it’s in the nature of those loving people to allow the self-absorbed to get away with it in hopes they will eventually change; eventually mature; eventually recognize the casual cruelty they have been inflicting on the people they should be cherishing. In my own experience, if this behavior is enabled by rationalizing and excusing, it only worsens. Yes, this is truly a cynical opinion from someone who is usually a cock-eyed optimist. But there you have it. And as my Basque friend Borja, the pessimist would say, “‘Tis what it ’tis, Clare, ’tis what it ’tis!”