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Try a Little Tenderness

Tell me how you are doing.

Really doing.

I am struggling to make sense of things right now. I am mourning my dad big time and I am worried sick about what’s happening around us.

These are strange and difficult times.

The calendar tells us that we are almost halfway through 2022 but it still feels like 2020.

We are watching the people of Ukraine brutalized, their country ravaged, and millions of them leaving. many without loved ones, possessions, jobs, or clarity about where they will live or how they will survive.

The Supreme Court is about to issue an opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, sending the clear message to women everywhere that we won’t have control over our bodies, and the less obvious but equally devastating one, that our needs, our desires, our opinions, and our lives don’t really matter that much.

And Covid is everywhere once again. Thankfully it doesn’t feel quite as scary this time, but it’s still unsettling and makes our lives, our schedules, and our plans complicated and uncertain.

How are you coping?

What are you doing to stay sane in insane times?

Everyone seems to have their own coping mechanisms and they differ wildly.

We sit in nature, we walk, we work, we clean, we shop, we scroll, we drink, we cry, we moan, we eat, we protest, we write, we worry.

My husband watches murder shows (which I find incredibly disturbing). As a former prosecutor, I am unable to watch shows about atrocious crimes. But for him, there is comfort watching criminals apprehended and the crimes solved.

My older daughter likes dystopian movies; perhaps it’s calming to enter a reality that is even stranger than the one we are in.

My younger daughter chooses reality shows so fake that one forgets, even if just for an hour, that a harsh and hostile world is out there.

I need to hear about the kindness of strangers, the reconnecting of family members, the against all odds triumphant tales and any and all stories of love.

I need to connect to the soft, comforting side of life or I fear I will lose all hope.

I ache for anything tender. While there are a number of definitions of the word “tender”, the one I am choosing is “marked by, responding to, or expressing the softer emotions; showing care”.

In thinking and writing about tenderness, I wondered whether the verb “to tend”came from the same origin.

Although the answer is unclear, I believe they are related.

The verb “tend” means both

1. “To be likely to happen or have a particular character or effect” (We tend to keep hidden our most vulnerable traits) and

2. “To care for something or someone.” (He carefully tends to his garden all summer)

How can we tend to our own need for tenderness?

How can we be more tender in challenging situations and with challenging people?

How can we tend to others around us, our communities, our country, and our planet?

First, close your eyes and allow the word tenderness to wash over you.

How does it make you feel?

What are you now more inclined to do or say?

We need to investigate the nature of tenderness and commit to bringing it forth.

In order to do that, we need to slow down and feel the lack of tenderness in the world first.

There’s something about the song “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding that does me in.

If you haven’t heard it in a while, take a listen.

It’s the sound of his voice, the music, and the pauses between the notes that bring tears to my eyes every time I hear it.

Somehow I know that he is singing to me, and to every woman who is exhausted, worn out, overwhelmed, and beleaguered.

The simple prescription for what ails so many of us is just so perfect.

Try a little tenderness.

That’s what I need right now.

To watch tender moments.

To feel tender moments.

To offer tender moments.

When Otis Redding advises to “try a little tenderness”, it is the showing of care that is the balm we most need.

I love this quote from George Eliot:

“When death, the great reconciler has come, it is never our tenderness that we repent, but our severity.”

So, if in our last moments we regret our harshness and wish we had been more tender, why can’t we be?

Why is there so much outrage? Anger? Violence? Hatred?

Can’t we all try a little tenderness?

Try we must in a world that seems intent on continuing to divide, to distance, to harm, to violate, to destroy.

We must be diligent about who we are, how we are and where we are.

Surround yourself with people who are capable of tenderness; who don’t scorn it or consider it weak.

Go to places where you can breathe in love and breathe out fear; forests, beaches, lakes, mountain tops, and any place in nature where magnificence is all around you.

Water is tender.

Flowers are tender.

Trees are tender.

Air is tender. Find the tenderness around you. Touch a baby's skin. Hold the hand of an older person. Sing. Tell someone you forgive them. Read Poetry. Snuggle with a furry friend. Perhaps most importantly, offer the same tenderness that you seek, to yourself, accepting your own flaws and issues and tending to your heart.

And in a world where caring is undervalued, care.

Care deeply.

In the words of Rollo May, the American existential psychologist and philosopher: “Care is a state in which something does matter: it is the source of human tenderness.”

Do not abandon caring by giving in to the belief that nothing matters.

You matter.

Caring matters.

Staying connected matters.

Listen carefully to the brilliance of the poet Rumi

“Our greatest strength lies in the gentleness and tenderness of our heart.”

I heard a beautiful story today about the spiritual leader Paramahansa Yogananda who, while sharing his message of love and unity, was assaulted by critics and naysayers who put him down, questioned his teachings, and tried to discredit him in every way possible. Yogananda’s disciples were horrified and angry, unsure of how to respond to the baseless attacks. They were even more confused and distraught when Yogananda did nothing to respond or defend himself. They begged him to explain how he could allow this to go on. Yogananda picked a rose from a nearby rose bush and plucked all the petals off and held them in his hand. He then held the handful of rose petals under the noses of his disciples. He then declared: "Even when crushed, a rose still smells like a rose". Even when crushed, we are still who we are, who we are meant to be.

This story gave me what I needed today.

It reminded me that it is the caring, the tenderness, the love that opens us to our strength, resilience, and power.

And that is what is most needed right now- for all of us to feel our inner strength, our connectedness, our compassion, and commit to trust that we can make an impact.

I turn to the great poet Hafez when I need to remember how simple it can be to stand in our light. He writes:

“Let tenderness pour from your eyes, the way sun gazes warmly on earth.” And even when we are crushed, let us all try a little tenderness. With love and light, Nora

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