The Allure of Responsibility

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If we are to live wholehearted, there is another word which matters a great deal, a word that has fallen out of favor in our über- independent, you-should-do-anything-you-can-dream self-talk: responsibility. There are many things I am not responsible for (and it’s important to get those things clear, or we’ll suffocate for sure). As Walker Percy said, “Lucky is the man who does not secretly believe that every possibility is open to him” However, there are some things I alone am responsible for – and it is my great task to see to them. There are few things (though perhaps only a few) worthy of the weight of our life.

There are two boys in my house who have only one fella to call dad, and that’s me. Miska has only one man to whom she has pledged her love and fidelity, and she has received this pledge from only one man in return. These responsibilities have been handed to me, and I gladly received them (though I was so young and mostly ignorant when I said ‘yes’). These responsibilities are mine. They are a trust, a bond, a calling. Whatever jolt of inspiration I might receive, whatever great stirring of wanderlust or new possibilities – if they pull me from these responsibilities, then they are lies.

There are a few words I must write, a few people I must pastor, a circle of friends who I will walk beside, come hell or high water. There is ground I must tend to, a horizon I must walk toward. To abandon any of these would be a wound to me and to those around me.

To insist we must be attentive to the unique contour of our life is not to throw fuel on the narcissism of our age, where we flit from one whim to the next with little regard for the world or our responsibility to it. Here, we have no silly suggestion that our entire life should be one long, uninterrupted string of thrills and chills. Just the opposite, attentiveness to our life helps us to know where we must lay down our life, if our life is what’s called for. Not everything will be worthy of this sacrifice, but some things are. Some things absolutely are.

Walk Forward

walk_forward_winn_collier_writerIn a culture obsessed with centerfold beauty and youthful vigor, we rarely know what to do with the fading years, the aging bodies. We are tempted to think of a withered frame or declining health as the great tragedy. However, I will tell you the greater tragedy, and it is not a life where the flame has been reduced to flicker. It is a life that never kindled the fire. The deepest sadness is not for the one with their life almost entirely spent, but the one who never really spent their life at all.

Some men live their years as mere shadows of other men. These shadow-men never buckle on their courage or plant two firm feet in a place or with a people they call their own. They never mark out their land. Some women never step into their strength or own their unique beauty. Existing as mere caricatures, they bridle their truest self. Perhaps their strength scares them, perhaps the disapproval of others chains them. I cannot say. I can only say that none of this is true living.

There comes a point in our life, and I think the 40’s is as good a decade as any, when we must decide to walk out from the shadows, to cast off the caricatures. We must be brave. While friendships and brotherhood will come to mean more and more to us, we will rely less and less on others’ opinions. We will live in the fellowship of courageous women and men, giving and receiving, journeying together – but we will not wait for their cues to brandish our gifts and unleash our passions. We see the glory in others, and we speak it. We see the glory in ourselves, and we receive it.

A final word. You can not make such a transition happen. Any pushy attempt at self-made maturity will only yield foolishness: self-importance, braggadocio and a brand of adult-adolescence far too prominent in our day. You can only watch and wait, listening to and learning from those wise ones ahead of you. And then, when your time comes (and here I believe the only wisdom we have is the old truth: you will know it when it arrives), we rise up and say yes. We walk forward.