It’s snowing again in Boston. We seem to have a big storm every week and no warm weather in between for the snow to melt. So, you might wonder, why would I cancel a scheduled trip to Florida for a conference in the middle of it?
It was a hard decision for me. I grew up in a family where responsibility was the main virtue stressed. That notion was strongly reinforced by Catholic education in the 1950s. Doing what I say I’m going to do, doing what I’m supposed to do, living up to my responsibilities were primary. Hence, canceling a commitment goes against the grain.
In many ways, it’s a virtue that’s helped me in uncountable ways. It helped with parenting. It gave me a good work ethic and let me plow ahead through graduate school despite multiple difficulties.
It’s only as I’ve aged that I’ve seen it as a liability as well as an asset. Growing up, I don’t remember any discussion of these questions: To whom am I responsible? For what? How does that responsibility change over a lifetime? And how do I sort conflicting responsibilities? The answers to those questions make all the difference in whether responsibility works for good or ill.
So, back to why I didn’t go to Florida like I said I would. It’s taken me far too long to understand that I have a responsibility to take care of myself. When I was younger, my mother used to accuse me of burning the candle at both ends. Now that the candle is that much shorter, I need to be a better steward of it. I came back from a trip to California with a bad cold, two days late because of a previous snow storm. By the time the Florida trip rolled around, I had not recovered.
To whom was I most responsible at that point? I could say myself, that I take care of myself, but that wouldn’t tell the whole story. I’m also responsible to my family and the community I live with. If I over-extend I get crabby or isolationist and they suffer, not just me.
One of the great benefits of working only part-time is the ability to be more observant and reflective. Most of the people Bill and I live with are much younger than us. I notice that they sometimes take on too much. It takes a toll. They remind me of a younger me. Now, however, I can see how their lack of self care affects the rest of us. I missed that when I was in their shoes. There’s no excuse for me missing it now. I need to be responsible to them as well as me. I need to be responsible for doing whatever it takes to be a calm and loving presence where I live.
What virtue was stressed when you were growing up? How has it helped you? Where has it become a liability?