The word “Responsibility” has always been one of my favourites.
It is rooted in the Latin words “re” ~ “to come back to” something, and “spondre” ~ “a promise”. Therefore, literally, it is the “ability to come back to a promise”.
We speak of someone as being a “person of their word”, meaning that, what they promise, they fulfill. We say, when agreeing to carry out a task or when making an oath, “I give you my word”, implying that verbal promises are synonymous with integrity and reputation, i.e. if our “word” is not aligned with our actions, our character will be publicly defamed.
The ability to return to a promise and then fulfill it, is a great honour and blessing. Many people make promises in their lives, sadly avoid or skirt any accompanying action, and then when they seek to rectify their neglect, they discover they are in a life circumstance which prohibits returning to the very promises they’ve made. I’m thinking of Paul Simon’s old song “Slip Sliding Away”,
“…And I know a father
Who had a son.
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he’d done.
He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again.
He’s slip slidin’ away…”
If we’ve made a promise to ourselves or someone else, left that promise unfulfilled and yet, even with the passing of fragile time, find ourselves in a circumstance where we are still able to return to that promise and fulfill it, we have been granted a great gift in life ~ the gift of embracing responsibility over the bitter and long-lasting flavour of regret we might otherwise be obliged to taste.
Regret: another Latin word: “re” meaning “to come back to”, combined with the Old French (possibly dating back to Germanic origin) word “greter“, meaning “to weep”.
So either we exercise the ability of returning to our promises in life while we can, or we return to weeping if we find we’ve lost the chance to fulfill them.
A few months ago my three year old and I went to visit my friend who has a daughter of the same age. The two girls went off to play and I watched them from afar. My friend’s daughter peeled a banana, carelessly threw the skin on the ground and then graciously handed my daughter the fruit. My little one’s face was horrified and she quickly turned away from the other little girl, put her nose in the air and refused to eat the gift. As time went on, my sweet but stubborn daughter would neither speak with, accompany or even entertain the friendly advances of my friend’s child. Having a feeling I knew what the problem was, as we got back into our jeep, I asked my daughter why she had been so cold and rude to the other little girl.
As I expected, my daughter who is quite a passionate little environmentalist, said with disgust, “She threw the banana peel on the ground! Yucky! I didn’t want to eat it or play with her.”
During our ride home I tried to teach my little one about “clean garbage” (biodegradable things) and “dirty garbage” ~ but more importantly, I tried to help her understand that kindness and goodness have different levels of importance. “If we keep the world clean, and are kind to animals, BUT we are rude to people or don’t try to teach others proper behaviour through our own good actions, we’ve made a big mistake!” I tried explaining to her that:
Number 1: We must care for people. All people ~ even the mean ones. Be kind to them, speak nicely to them and try to help them learn good things by showing them our own proper behaviour.
Number 2: We must care for animals. All animals ~ even the mean ones. Allow them to be free and safe, not abuse them and be gentle with them. If they help us we must be fair to them, kind and not over-burden them.
Number 4: We must care for the earth. All of the earth. We must work hard to keep it clean, replenish in it what we use from it and avoid wastefulness to the best of our ability.
Now, those two concepts: “The Hierarchy of Caring” and “Returning To My Promises” have faced me head on ~ resulting in my having to make some very important decisions and take some very unforeseen action.
Though my life in Pakistan and experiments in self-subsistence have been a great source of joy and peace for me in recent years, my care for people must come before my desire to collect rain water and passions for planting seeds or petting goats. Though the slow paced life of a free-lance writer and music composer in the foot-hills of the Himalayas is a romantic adventure which inspires me daily, the promise of devotion my family which has been in me since childhood is one that I must return to before excuses and regret dare try to take its place.
One week ago, I quickly packed my guitar, my laptop, my toothbrush and a few shirts, kissed my wife and daughters good-bye and boarded a plane back to Canada. Some health concerns with my mother have arisen which have made it important for me to be near her at this time.
And so, I write now from the bedroom in my parent’s home where I grew up….looking out the window to the autumn leaves from within the blue walls that inspired the title of my first CD, “Blue Walls and The Big Sky”. I recall how badly I wanted to get out of those walls…travel, live, love, run, fly…. Over twenty faded years and hundreds of faded passport stamps later, it feels so good to be with my folks, where memories of my youth are as bright and vibrant as ever.
I feel 17 years old again being here, only, the white hair of my parents and those white strands within my own beard remind me that time has indeed moved on rapidly.
This old room seems so small now…so quiet… yet so warm and so safe. The yard out back (where the Swiss cottage tool shed my father and I built so long ago still sits amid collections of bird feeders) is like a doorway back in time… the location of my first garden plot and teenaged daydreams of where and when I’d find contentment one day.
In the end, perhaps sipping at simplicitea is not about where we are geographically. It is about where we are ideologically, philosophically and spiritually. It is not so much about the actions of planting seeds, drying herbs or beating water pumps into submission ~ it is about trying to achieve balance with community, nature and within our own selves.
Though I am not in Pakistan now ~ and have exchanged my chappals and shalwar khameez for wool socks, boots, corduroys and flannel ~ I will still make the best effort possible to post new entries here which detail my ongoing experiments in seeking simplicity. In fact, the test to stay simple will be even more of a challenge to me now in this environment, especially with my wife and daughters thousands of miles and a nine hour time difference away for the next several weeks. But, being near my parents at such a very important time in our lives, will make it all worth while.
Here, in my old blue bedroom, one of my mother’s many cross-stitch projects sits on the book shelf ~ reminding me when I wake and before I sleep of where I came from, where I am and where I hope to always be. It reads appropriately, “Simplify your life.”