Sunday, November 18, 2007

"Not Now, Duty"

Duty for me is a family name. It was my great-great grandfather’s name, Duty Hopkins, and his grandfather’s before him. Since then it has appeared as a middle name in each generation. As the eldest male child of mine I might have been stuck with it, but my father was not the eldest so he had not been given it, so it was left for a cousin to bear. He has yet to have any children, so perhaps it will die. Or perhaps I will at least give it to our next dog. That would be a way of honoring it one last time and then letting it go.

My mother’s family was not without duty either, although they had the good sense not to use it as a name for their children. Duty was, however, more than exemplified in my great-grandmother, Pearl, who died when she couldn’t do her chores anymore. I helped her deliver meals-on-wheels to others when she was 90. All but one of those on her route were older than her. It was my first experience of the ravages of age up close and personal, visiting these folk. I was shocked after several times doing this that one of the reasons Gram did it was to maintain a certain smugness about her own ability to keep going. I carry her DNA.

We are thinking about rescuing greyhounds as our next dogs, and getting two, a male and female pair like the young cats we now have. Duty and Pearl I think they shall be. Luckily, John seems amused by the idea.

Perhaps they will be a good, daily reminder not only of my family heritage, of which I am actually fiercely proud, but also of my need to resist that part of it that drives me to do my duty to no end, at the cost not only of my soul, but my life. In my latest crash it almost cost me that much, almost as in a hair’s breath. Maybe, with the dogs as a constant reminder, I will learn to say, “Not now, Duty.” Even God rests.

Written after reading an essay by Walter Brueggemann called "You Cannot Fool Your Nephesh," in his book Mandate to Difference. Nephesh is the Hebrew word often translated "soul," but really meaning something like "whole self."

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