Less of a question and more of a plea, from one of our members this week. Clearly, we weren’t quite done with the concept of duty introduced in the past few verses. Our many duties tend to pull us from all directions, making it difficult to focus on the self.
So when does our duty end? Does it ever? I wrote earlier about the idea of being compassionately detached as we raise our children. But what about after they are raised?
With my son for example, I was a helicopter parent, especially given the fact that for many of his most crucial boyhood and adolescent years, I was a single mother. Determined to be both mother and father, I was mommy, friend, and disciplinarian all rolled into one. Not an easy job, nor a very effective combination, and I was certainly NOT compassionately detached. Still, I did the best I could, and we made it through. Now that he is grown, in his third year of med school, and has been out of the house for almost a decade, are my duties toward him complete?
I had been looking forward, after a very exhausting semester at school, to a summer where I could focus wholly on myself, my writing, my health, and my creativity. I was anticipating with relish the long summer days when I would be accountable to no one, with no papers to grade, students to advise or meetings to attend. I would go for long walks, I told myself, meditate for hours on end, attend my Gita class, write a book or two.
Two weeks before the end of the semester, my son sent me a text. “I think I better come home to study for Step 1 of the USMLE.” It was a crucial step in his career, a high stakes exam that would determine whether or not he made it as a doctor. Of course, I told him to come.
For the next six weeks, I resumed my status as Mom, with a capital M. My husband and I arranged a special study room for him downstairs and removed all the furniture. We moved my desk and my brand new display monitor that I had just brought home to write with, into his room. I cooked him three meals a day, carefully balanced to give him the right dose of nutrition. I delivered the meals along with occasional snacks and homemade fruit smoothies to his door, so he wouldn’t be disturbed. We kept the TV low and the dogs quiet, and tiptoed around the house. We gave him one of the cars and managed with the other, so he could go to the gym or take off once a week to the mountains to relax. On the day of the exam, I packed a cooler full of granola bars, mixed nuts and coconut water to keep him energized. In short, I did what any mother would do.
Payback for all this work? He passed with flying colors and I know that he can now choose his field of specialization and is not limited in what he wants to do. I like to think that I did my duty this time not passionately attached to the results, but compassionately detached. I urged my son to do his best, did everything in my power to help him, and left the results to God.
So, no my friend, I don’t believe our duty ever ends. It may fluctuate between round the clock attention and occasional support, but it lasts for as long as we do. As for the self? It seems we have to look at duty not as an obstacle, but as the actual, often winding, sometimes exhausting path to progress and perfection.
Image: Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons