Mama told me I was “tender hearted.” I nursed wounded pets to health and vitality. I cried for sad friends and luckless strangers in TV stories. My students said I had heart. My ancestors tell me they are pleased. I have never closed my heart despite a long life with heartbreak and pain. Now my heart tells me that it has reached its tipping point.
It whispers to me. I. Can’t. Care. Anymore.
My heart curls into a fist. It contracts into a space that once was the center of my fierce womanist love and compassion. In the still of the night, it bleats, I am breaking. I can’t take much more.
This frightens me: to care is to love, to love is to care. I cannot live lovelessly.
My heart is like a yo-yo on a long string of feels. My heart beats a cautionary rhythm. In stage whispers it threatens to shut down. My mind is now a first responder arriving at every human disaster.
It asks, “What can I do? What more can I do? How do I prioritize with so much to react to? I am losing the ability to respond.” My capacity to answer in a loving way is becoming a receding shoreline on an imaginary perfect dream world.
It’s not that I have stopped caring. I continue to care fiercely about a lot of people and a lot of things. My heart and mind agree: CARING HURTS.
It hurts when caring has become undervalued in all aspects of human interaction. Talk to mothers, children and youth, the elderly, those with disabilities. Ask men who are unsure about their place in a society that must transform its culture. Talk to people in hospitality jobs.
Caretaking has been commodified into service industries that respond superficially to human needs. Those who care for others — children, the elderly, those with disabilities — are often brown skinned and poorly paid.
Then there is the matter of self care in a world frenzied with achievement, money, and a murky future that is as precarious as a snowman in July.
My heart is sympathetic when students are shot down in schools that should be safe places. I am immobilized in the cross hairs of fight or flight when another black body is killed by violence. I am a mother, a grandmother, and a retired teacher. I stand in solidarity that we must address gun control.
Racism is a mental health disease. It should be parallel with the discussions about opioid abuse. But when black, brown, and trans bodies are killed, the reciprocity for caring is absent. There are no celebrity outcries, Go Fund Me campaigns, or rational responses in biased media coverage.
My heart asks, who cares for me?
I whisper back to my heart. I do.
I believe in a Creator Spirit that resides in all of us. I know we can do better.
Despite my weariness, my hope under fire, I care. I will take care of you. We have an enduring relationship. We know tenderness is a healing balm. The touch. The hug. The promise of being there for someone. I say to my heart, let’s take care of our body. Eat. Play. Rest.
Let’s remember that we have been here before — if not through our own experiences, those of our ancestors. Despite not knowing their futures or destinations, enslaved African women braided seeds in their hair. They held visions of planting, harvesting, and feeding others.
Beginning with the early Black churches, women created mutual aid societies. They organized to feed, clothe, and shelter families and kin.
I grew up in a community where children belonged to everybody. Hard-playing children knew which neighbor’s house offered that extra butter-sugar or fried bologna sandwich. I witnessed women asking how somebody was, and listening intently as the person answered.
Women shared what little they had. For many women, caring was God in action. They reached out to others whose hearts were also challenged by the disturbing signs of their times. It was a private joy.
I remind my heart that Black women have been making tender loving care into an art form. Always and forever.
In spite of it all. I will continue to care. Deeply.