Respect for ourselves and for the one we care for is a central attitude to live and to be lived by. We simply do not, and will not, know the truth and fullness of anyone’s personal life, for it is hidden even as we live it. Then to be respectful is first to give up thinking that we know what others are essentially about, and second, it is something we can hold on to, like a railing, while we learn as we go.
Who are we? Who is the one we care for? Who someone was at the vibrant age of twenty or later at the tottering age of eighty is still the same soul – a soul that has lived and learned, has suffered, made mistakes, and has loved and been loved. All that living can’t be summed up as if one could add up a life like a column of numbers.
Things we have given of ourselves and set in motion are still unfolding somewhere in the vastness of what is. Both caregiver and care receiver are mysteries. Can we learn to respect that about each other and see that it makes for equality between us?
Because one person needs another, there can be a way we give and a way we receive that is diminishing. Suppose we can’t do for ourselves. Suppose the one who is caring for us is burdened. Who is the needy one? Still, the one in charge has more control and more power. And deep down we know that power can corrupt. How easy it is to fall away from our basic equality, our basic, shared human neediness. How easily, in taking care of someone, we can lapse into an unconscious feeling of superiority and so act
It’s also true that a person needing care may lose all perspective about the needs of the one giving care. They might cajole, demand, and act more helpless than they are. Respect for the otherness of the other is missing. It is then imperative for caregivers to respect their own needs. When both sides of the equation go unattended, caregiving becomes a living hell. How important it is to know that having self-respect as a caregiver gives us the ability to give respect to the one we care for.
In the midst of the bedpans, wheelchair transfers, and endless sitting by the bedside, we can nevertheless sense a tender and fragile blossom of respect opening a petal at a time. Respect is the growing medium that lets us become more of who we are. It is what lets us bloom even when we face death and disease. The meaning of our lives will never be summed up, but their beauty and fragrance can keep unfolding.
Daily I forget that I am Yours, that You made me for love’s sake, that You hold my being with infinite respect. May I receive that wondrous gift and know it to be a gift that’s been given to everyone.
Let me cultivate respect and extend it to those who are in the path of my life.
Let me not automatically think I know what I am about or what others need.
Let my not knowing grow into being respectful.