A couple of years back, I had the great good fortune to hear Dr. Arthur Kleinman, who holds professorships in medical anthropology and psychiatry at Harvard and Harvard Medical School, AND is a former director of Harvard’s Asia Center – what an underachiever! :-) – speak on “Caregiving and the Moral Experience.” His talk really inspired me, and I’ve been a fan of his work ever since.
In an article in The Lancet entitled, “Caregiving: The Odyssey of Becoming More Human,” he writes movingly of his own experiences taking care of his late wife Joan, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. And he says of caregiving in general:
Caregiving is also a defining moral practice. It is a practice of empathic imagination, responsibility, witnessing, and solidarity with those in great need. It is a moral practice that makes caregivers, and at times even the care-receivers, more present and thereby fully human. If the ancient Chinese perception is right that we are not born fully human, but only become so as we cultivate ourselves and our relations with others — and that we must do so in a threatening world where things often go terribly wrong and where what we are able to control is very limited — then caregiving is one of those relationships and practices of self – cultivation that make us, even as we experience our limits and failures, more human. It completes (not absolutely, but as a kind of burnishing of what we really are — warts and all) our humanity. And if that Chinese perspective is also right (as I believe it is), when it claims that by building our humanity, we humanise the world, then our own ethical cultivation at the very least fosters that of others and holds the potential, through those relationships, of deepening meaning, beauty, and goodness in our experience of the world.
Caregiving is hard, and often goes unrewarded, unappreciated, and even unrecognized. But this thread is in honor and recognition of the many caregivers–of humans, nonhumans, the sick, the elderly, and the young–within the Balloon Juice community. Please tell us your story, update prior stories, and especially to share your tips and advice and support.
PS – don’t forget the Writers Thread, which TaMara and I will do at 12:30 today.