There is a childhood friend who is very dear to me, our lives having been tangled together, in one way or another, like kudzu clinging to a chain-linked fence.
Have you ever tried to cut kudzu away from a fence like that? It is nigh to impossible. Likewise, if you attempted foolishly to cut pieces of our lives away from each other, you'd soon give up.
In childhood, she was a few years older and that seemed like a mountain of time back then. I was freckle-faced, pudgy-cheeked and awkward, but she was pretty, tall and slender with thick red hair, a quick wit and a sparkling laugh. I loved her most when she scolded her nuisance of a little brother, who seemed to have only one treasured past-time in life: to make my life miserable.
Of course, he was often much too clever for her and did most of his pinching, poking and pulling behind her back. But if she ever caught him, she stood up for me. Even back then she always took care of the poor in spirit and body. She has this thing about looking after people.
In one of life's crazy turn-around-and-get-you twists, that nuisance became the first boy I loved when my teen-aged heart nudged me toward romance. In the years that have drifted by since those unencumbered days, our age difference has melted away, and now we are true contemporaries. Our lives have been deeply bonded through laughter, memories, need and grief. We have stood more than once over the grave of that bothersome boy, clinging together and alternating between sobs and giggles as we recalled those times past. Grief, I have learned, is the greatest unifier that life can offer.
So now, every week or two, we have a long chat when the time is available. I returned her call the other day, settled down on the stairway and juggled Dixie Dew when she climbed the steps and struggled into my lap for which she is much too big.
We started talking about all those people we look after, we care about and we feel a sense of duty to help. We commenced a dialogue about those who drift blindly through life, rarely offering a helping hand, instead waiting for those of us who will.
"I always say that being responsible is something you're either born with or you aren't," she said. "You can't make yourself be that way. You've either got it or you ain't."
She paused for a split second. "And I'll tell you - if you're born with it, it's a curse."
Reita's comical in her delivery, anyway, but that struck me as so funny that I banged my head against the wall as I howled loudly and nearly dropped Dew from my lap. After that outrageous interruption to her sleep, Dew crawled off my lap and took a safer spot on the next step up. Reita got tickled at my laughter, so we laughed for a couple of minutes then I caught my breath.
"You're right. It's a curse," I agreed.
And it is. Here's how it goes with us responsible people: We make all of our decisions based on how they affect everyone around us. We often stop what we're doing for ourselves and do for others. We worry about the starving dog in the street and find food for him, making us late for an appointment. We pay our insurance before we buy a new dress. We tote cloth shopping bags to the grocery store. We drive slower to save gas. We return our shopping carts to the rack. All this takes time, energy and, sometimes, aggravation.
It's a big responsibility being responsible. No wonder some people don't want to do it. They're lucky they're not cursed.
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