There are a number of reasons why I love reading Peter Mayle’s narratives of life in Provence. None the least of which is the culinary adventure that invariably takes center stage in every story. Three-hour lunches over bottles of rosé, assorted goat’s milk cheeses, and saucisson. Six-course dinners that would rejuvenate and revivify the weariest of souls. Peter Mayle makes me want to cook. To spend long, lazy days in the kitchen baking tarts, madeleines, making confit of summer vegetables, picking, chopping, and relishing in bouquets of fresh herbs from the garden.
But, I digress.
Given the introduction, you may be wondering what on earth Peter Mayle and the accompanying quote have to do with a blog post on “the art of responsibility”. A lot, actually.
It’s my experience that most discussions of responsibility center on stuff we need to do whether we like it or not. Fulfilling social roles, familial obligations, earning a living, suitably maintaining our health through diet and exercise, being conscious of and respecting others (whether we like them or not), taking reasonable care of our belongings, personal property, etc. And while these are all surely dimensions of responsibility, they are not what interest me here. In fact, I’ll go a step further and suggest that any definition of personal responsibility that only focuses on these things is woefully inadequate. Because it omits the obligation to be fully alive.
And for as many years as I’ve been writing about this topic—about what it means to be fully human, to cultivate our passions and potentialities, to engage fully, actively, and sensorially with our environment—I hadn’t thought to put it terms of responsibility. That is, I have a responsibility to be alive during the moments of my life. In fact, this is the greatest responsibility I have to myself. Not to be inert. Not to be passive. Not to engage in behaviors that dull or distract me. But to be alive.
To my mind, per May’s definition, responsibility is an art, central to all others. It is the decision to be alive. To transform that which is necessity, that which is routine, into a form of enjoyment. Because when I choose otherwise, I am choosing a kind of inertia, a kind of blind acceptance. There is a major difference in attitude here between picking up our burdens and carrying them as a matter of responsibility and creating, or co-creating, the moments of our lives, much as an artist would. In the former, there is no possibility of joy, of gratitude, transformation, or creativity—the highest of human potentialities.
I have a responsibility to myself to be alive during the moments of my life. To use the life within me to beget a more creative life. To transform drudgery into play. To transform the necessities of life into ceremony, celebration. To accept suffering when it comes, while remembering that there is always a reason to be grateful. Indeed, to be fully alive is to be grateful. It is a move toward beauty and goodness.
I like thinking this way. That I am my own source. That being the creator—that being the artist—of my life is not a luxury. It is an obligation. Quite possibly the greatest obligation I have to myself. Yes. Yes, I think so.