Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

My year of practicing tenderness

I try to keep the list of things I want from life short: I want my face to look like a place where somebody has lived, I want to walk just enough in a day that I will be happy to return home, and I want not to be alone.

At the start of the year I closed my curtains shut my windows and lay in bed for a week. When I stood back up and was strong enough again to go out I bought a diary, because I had realized that intent was necessary for me to care for myself and that it was necessary also to care for myself.

My self is a strange and untameable thing, but this year I have attempted to fill my shell with something tender without erasing my own anger, to let that something swell and grow and set me alight and spill out. I walked in parks and streets for hours and kept my eyes and hands wide open. I paid attention and remembered if I stand under a tree while it rains the air will sweeten for me. If I recite poems in the shower I will feel no shame. Writing letters feels like tying up string around my love and setting it down, still trembling and shaking within its ties, at somebody’s feet. Learned it will leave me open to pain and also to the light. Sometimes I read something and it feels like plunging my cupped hands into my own secret soul and reaching. Every Sunday I sit with myself and drink tomato soup and think and let the tiredness wash over my body and go to sleep and prepare for the necessary work. I think about imprints and memory and love a lot and try to be frank and sincere in thought and speech. I long for the images I carry in the fabric of myself to slide perfectly over my tongue unchanged and undimmed. I try to listen to my own pain enough to close its wounds without letting it hold me. It is my year of learning and practicing tenderness, not by accident but with full intent.

What does tenderness look like? I hold my friends’ hands when I talk to them, when I listen to them. I try not to let bitterness or irritation ever settle within me, to be as kind in actions as I wish to be. I stare into my tomato soup and think of my week: have my words been kind, sincere? Has my language been filled with care? Has the love I feel carried over? I drink the lukewarm soup and do the hard work of looking into my own mistakes and holding myself to the kindness I aim for. I want to be better at loving. When I write on the Internet I try to be also sincere, also kind. There is good, honest work in self-expression. It’s the honesty found in gardening, in growing within you something that could not have lived elsewhere.

Tenderness also looks like: now when I feel restless I go out and walk, never letting myself forget about the things that exist beyond me. I spend a lot of time reading things that give me insight and light up paths for me instead of giving me room to express meaningless empathy. I have filled what little empty hours I have with images and song and poetry, weaving a web that rests upon tenderness itself, tending to the images growing within me. The web weaving is delicate work, spinning around one single idea the work of others and my own love, but they map roads towards one another. Works of art set for my soul a full and warm table. I sit and eat, and I don’t miss the time spent wasting away looking at screens. The veil is slowly lifting.

In this I have learned to let myself out and listen, no longer trying to fit into one carefully crafted mould. Let myself be the lover of friends and art and of my selves (younger and older). Let my heart record and remember, my hands hold. Let my tongue say over and over again the wonder of the things I love. Let every word be filled with tender purpose.

I have let tenderness in. Every night I am coming home to warm food and lamplight leaking out of the windows into the night, and tenderness is holding the door open.

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