Teach us to care and not to care

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still

TS Eliot, Ash Wednesday
Saint Eulalia, John William Waterhouse.

This isn’t the passage I’d initially planned on using, but there’s a beauty to it that’s stayed with me for the last several days. A few months back, I read this poem several times over several weeks. As often happens with Eliot, what I took from the poem was directly related to where I was in my life. These lines didn’t even register then.

And now they’re all I can think about.

Blessèd sister, teach me to care and not to care.

I care much about that which does not matter. And I am careless with so much that does. Recently, a friend mentioned that we’d known each other for much longer than I’d initially thought, and though it was just a passing remark, it made me think of something I’ve been aware of for quite awhile: I am careless with people. But not for the reasons often assumed. I’m not careless with people because I assume they’ll love me regardless of how I treat them; I’m careless with people because I assume they couldn’t love me. Not if they knew me. Why would they? I know myself – I wouldn’t care about me. So I am careless to avoid hurt, I guess. But I don’t think that’s what the blessèd sister would teach me.

On the other hand, I care very much about stupid things and stupid people. People who can’t take their gaze away from themselves. Who are incapable of caring about me in anything more than the most superficial of ways. Things that are either entirely outside my ability to change, or too inconsequential to merit the amount of thought I give it them. We do this every day, being careless with the precious things, and focusing so much energy on things that aren’t. That are nothing more than distractions.

Blessèd sister. Teach me to care about that which matters and not to care about that which does not.

Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehoods

I spent most of the day discussing “self-talk” with my best friend. She and I have been friends since she married one of my other best friends. She and I could not be more different, but it works. She’s tough with me, which I need. She’s sensible, logical. Comfortable with who she is. She hates the things I say to myself, the self-loathing that I indulge to justify my carelessness with others. The things I tell myself are lies. She calls me on it.

All of us do it. We mock ourselves with falsehoods, for many reasons. But we only live once, and living a life hating oneself, lying to oneself is not a life lived well.

Teach us to sit still.

So often we live ahead of where we are. We worry about the moment this moment will end. We worry about where we’ll be in x number of months or years. We attempt to anticipate pain, as if this will somehow mitigate it, when life is not about avoiding pain. It is pain, Highness.

So when we start to anxiously look ahead, to try to anticipate pain, or anticipate grief (I’ve done this, and I don’t recommend it), we need to remember to sit still. To be where we are at, however unlovely that place is. Sometimes we are attempting to escape pain and grief, but we also need to sit there sometimes, and allow the moment to wash over us, to drown us even, because we’ll come out on the other side.

Blessèd sister, teach us to sit still.

I know that Eliot was always very specific about his subjects, but poetry is subjective, whether the poet wants it or not. And this is what I got from it.

One thought on “Teach us to care and not to care

  1. Odd how it’s the second of your posts in a row that makes me think about one person in particular.
    I had loved a measurable handful, and had cared about too many. Conclusions were drawn. But that was too tough for even most poets to describe. At least I know I’m still looking for words, despite the years. But eventually I’ll sing it, too. Just as subjectively, but one can only relate to subjective things to make something of them for oneself, right?


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