Monday, July 5, 2010

Be Careful

That's what it said on the sign board in front of a church I saw this week. Be careful. How many times have I said that to my children, to my friends, to my family, to myself? Be careful means look out....don't get attention...don't die. There's a scene from a movie, 1969, I think it is, where this woman's son goes off to Vietnam, and she can't bring herself to say goodbye to him (because she's so angry that he chose to enlist), so instead of seeing him off at the station, she goes for a run. She runs parallel to the highway where his bus ends up driving on it's way out of town, so they see each other after all. She is waving as he passes, screaming something at him, which, from inside the bus he hears as "Good Bye" so he returns the call to her. Only she's really screaming "Don't die" at him. Gut punch. Of course he dies, because what else are you going to write into an anti-war movie? Even I saw that one coming.

What does that really mean though, be C A R E F U L? Does it really mean "be full of care?"

When I tell people to "be careful" I usually mean, on some level, "try not to die" doing whatever it is you're about to do. Be careful's cousin is the expression "take care" which I use a lot as a sign off in correspondence. What does that mean, to TAKE CARE? We use it and BE CAREFUL synonymously to some extent. Though, to "take care of someone" has developed myriad meanings. There is the tailpipe to the back of the knees expression of ridding oneself of an unwanted problem, and then, conversely, there is the swabbing someone's forehead and feeding them ice chips as they take their dying breath. Complete opposites. When I say it, I think, on some level, I'm still suggesting that people toe a line that would not involve them getting kneecapped, without actually coming out and saying "it's a tough careful out there" because, really, i'm pretty sure my boss would be sitting in my office in about 10 seconds flat if I signed off on an email to her with that.

Interestingly, the word care comes from Old English meaning "lament" and the first definition listed is "suffering of mind; grief." The second definition is "a disquieted state of mixed uncertainly, apprehension, and responsibility....a cause for such anxiety."

Why then, would I tell people to "take care" as if it were some positive directive? As it turns out i'm wishing anxiety and grief on people, which was certainly not my intention. Admonishing someone to "be careful" is a little more fitting though, if my intention is to remind you to be cautious not to make a mistake, or to remember to be prudent.

I wonder what the pastor meant, when he posted that on the board. I guess i'll never know. I think i'll switch to "All the best" however, when I write to people. Though secretly I still hope you don't die. (Spoiler alert: You're going to anyway.)

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