Dependency & Obligation

Who do we allow to depend on us?

I’ve been struggling with this question a lot lately. It’s been brought on by two recent unexpected deaths, as well as the more mundane struggle of balancing obligations to work with obligations to friends, and obligations to the present with obligations to the future.

It’s nice to feel wanted, and it’s nice to be able to be there for people. But we’re limited resources, and giving of yourself to all means that soon there’ll be nothing left to give. There are an infinite amount of needs to be met; how can we manage?

How do you weigh an obligation to a parent against an obligation to a job? One is a repayment for the past, the other an investment in the future. Further, there is a future obligation to a parent, as well as any more immediate. Focusing on work and advancement is work towards meeting the obligations towards future parents, towards future family, towards future self… towards future society. Yet, neglecting friends and family is a failure of your obligation to attend to those in the moment, to be an aid in their struggles, to be a part of their lived experience. Further, to neglect yourself is to undermine yourself, and by extension those very same people you seek to help. Is self-preservation not a crucial part of service? Yet self-obsession deadens the senses and the spirit.

One of the deaths, my friend Andrew, was a suicide. We all asked ourselves if we could’ve done more. What if, perhaps, we had taken the time to sit down with him once in a while, to encourage him to pour his heart out? Would have have sent the signal, the one he never received? Alternatively, could all our energies have even made a difference?

The other, my uncle, was a slow yet untimely degeneration into illness and, heartbreakingly, death. He had been surrounded by those who loved and cared for him. Had they met their obligations to him? Did he to them?

Did I to him?

What are our obligations to the memories of each other?

What does it mean, to let someone down? To betray a trust, that they could depend on you? How was that trust formed? How do we decide to accept that burden? Are these arrangements between persons, or are there larger pieces in play? Can it not be a form of caring, to refuse a request that you fear you will be to weak to perform? Or to preserve your strength to tackle a greater challenge ahead?

How much can we, should we, spare for another? How much for ourselves, our own self-preservation? How much for the present? How much for the future? For whose future? For whose present?

I’m inclined to conclude that this is a web of paradoxes, and that the only path is to cut through the middle; part for present, part for future, part for friends, part for work, part for self. To balance them all and to try and cast a long arc into the future.


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