Skip to main content
On a New Economy of Care featured img
Category: Life Culture

On a New Economy of Care

March 29, 2023

My phone rang last week.

It was an unusual enough experience in this modern day and age as to be immediately either alarming or annoying, and I was half-way between deciding whether to be alarmed or annoyed and really it could have gone either way, but the ringing stopped.

The ringing stopped and I rambled off to my interrupted task without a second thought or even a glance at the caller ID, quickly picking up the thread of my thoughts, only to be interrupted when it rang again, a few moments later, and stopped, again, and this time when I paused I picked up the phone and looked and saw a missed call from my son and one from his cousin, who he had been skiing with, at night, on a cold mountain near our house. I had time to know fear before it rang a third time, fear, for adult children do not call—they text, or message, or drop in and lay all over the couches in your living room until it is time to eat or sleep or work, but they don’t call, not unless someone is sick— or hurt. This time he was hurt.  

So.

My son skied into a tree last week.

I have a picture of his face after the accident, sitting in the ski patrol office with his cousin, blood pouring from his forehead, down his shoulder, over his new ski coat, his phone in hand as he took a selfie with an unlikely smile on his face in between the missed phone calls to his mother, where he tried, and failed, to avoid alarming me unnecessarily. It felt like fully necessary alarm.  

But this is not an essay about missed calls or adult children who ski into trees or about wearing the proper safety gear when engaging in extreme sports (for instance a helmet, which was noticeably absent on the day/night in question). 

No, this is not an essay about parenting or the way you feel as if your heart has taken a great leap outside your chest when your children are injured, or even about the ways you would, if possible, wrap your arms around them and try to shield them, try to make things better, the way you would take their pain to be your own if you could, if there was some magic or alchemy that would allow such transference. 

This is an essay about community. An essay about love.

An essay about care. 

It could have been worse. We were lucky, and he only needed six staples in his scalp to close the wound, but it was after five pm, and the doctor’s office was closed, and he was not quite hurt enough for the emergency room, but too hurt to take care of at home, so I called our family practitioner, who by chance lives in our neighborhood, and I am sure it was too late, and I sounded too frantic, but he said, “come over and we will see what needs to be done.” When we arrived he took one look, whistled at the sight of the blood and the open laceration, and decided to take my son to his office to secure the gash with an orderly line of steel staples, and did I want to come? Or did I want to wait? He had been just about to start cooking dinner, he said, and his wife was home, and his wife and I are friends, so the doctor took my son, and I took his place in the kitchen, passing the time sauteing asparagus and grilling steak while he sutured the delicate skin of my son’s scalp. 

A trade, of sorts. One form of physical care for another.

I have thought a lot about that meal, about that injury, about that evening spent over a stove with a friend while someone else took care of my son in a way I could not. In another neighborhood, or with another doctor, that exchange would never have happened. And I feel lucky to count among my friends and my neighbors the doctor who delivered into this world my youngest child and has administered medical care to my family for almost two decades now. 

It leads me to consider the types of communities we would live in, if we could choose to. Made me think about how we love one another. About how we serve each other. About the ways that we care. 

So many articles and essays and podcasts and books talk about how isolated and disconnected and separated we are in this modern world. I can’t help but wonder what we have lost by prioritizing convenience over community. Or maybe we did not lose those relationships, maybe we never found them, and in that void, that absence, we find ourselves mourning a power we never held, a connection that is only present in the myths and stories we tell at night, whispered in the dark like a dream of something that has never been. I find myself asking how we can create for ourselves an economy that ignores politics, that resists making ourselves the commodity, the product, or the brand in favor of nurturing love and labor.

Can we look for new spaces and create for each other a new ideal? Can we stitch together the type of utopia that we dream of in dark days? Can we create a new economy of care? 

Can we map the terrain of an unknown land? What is care, but another word for love?

I worry that we don’t know much about how to love, really.

Oh, the story we tell ourselves about love has its purpose. It is entertaining, diverting. Fun. We idealize a vision of romantic gestures, of flowers and chocolates and gifts, but we forget the golden rule, the golden hours—we hoard the gold, and forget to set aside any hours at all. 

The way we love feels like it should be simpler than those grand gestures and cinematic scenes that we are shown on silver screens. I think love is in recognizing the curve of one body leaning into another as we whisper confidences into the early morning air. I think it is in the companionship of nights so late they’ve edged into dawn, in the tight, white skin stretched across the knuckles of nervous hands, with fingers intertwined while waiting together in emergency rooms and waiting rooms and living rooms, beside sick beds and death beds, or as we work side by side to dig deep into garden beds and flower beds. I find love in refuge, not roses. 

Love is not a spare glance but a spare hand, one that rubs aching shoulders, and spreads sunscreen on the places you cannot reach, no matter how hard you twist or turn. Love is “text me when you get home,” and “be careful,” and “take an umbrella, it looks like rain.” 

Love is making of all our giving a receiving—a presence and presentness. It is tenderly tucking time into our pockets, shielded, sheltered, and safe. It is folding our limbs tight into one another and holding on while we break, but are not broken, it is in sweat and tears shed together—the sweet salt savor of sympathy.

It is in concern and community. 

It is in care.