Chloé Cooper Jones on Love and the ‘Cost’ of Care

My twisted logic told me that the more I gave to Matty now, the more he could ask for later, and inevitably there will come a time when I will have to ask him for a lot more help. Matty will find it difficult to ask and often difficult to give. My son will also suffer as I suffered watching my mother, my heart torn with worry for everything she endured. Less often do I reflect, to my detriment, on what she gained by loving my stepfather until the end of her life. I forgot that the cat that is outside at night is fed by a community of loving people.

Worse, I failed to see that Matty’s performance explores caring as a kind of wholeness in itself, a wholeness that can only come from being inextricably linked to another person. A strong bond can contain freedom along with responsibility, sacrifice, and care. I can’t change the facts of my body, but I can change what I notice. I can stop confusing control over my future with control over the people I love. I try, with Matty, to feel the following truth: that all the inevitable worry, difficulty and even resentment is a product of love, an emotion big and strong enough to hold others without breaking.

Later, back home in Brooklyn, Matty, my son, and I attended someone else’s dance show, which we felt was hardly about anything. The work was polite, easy to see and we left it unchanged. Such an effortless work of art had nothing to offer us. Why was it so difficult for me to translate this observation into my relationship? I asked Matty this question, expressing my many fears. He listened with great patience and then said: “Without awareness, without the willingness to confront the facts of our aging and changing bodies, without effort, love is an empty concept.”

Matty’s performance had been brutal, exhausting, and at times even challenging to watch. But the faces in Matty’s audience showed deep feeling, and for my mother, the work had elicited a truth about care that was inaccessible through language, a truth that had to be felt to be perceived. In Dallas, I sat between my son and my mother, held their hands, and together we watched Matty dance, and we left transformed, and we were grateful to Matty for offering us through his art such a hard-earned gift.

And what do I have to offer you? As I write this, Matty walks into my office. He knows that it is the topic of my essay.

“What are you saying?” he asks.

“I’m afraid of that.”

“I’ll take care of you,” he says.

“But it will be very difficult.”

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