A Lot of Tenderness

Posted by on January 5, 2012

Despite what appears in the daily news, tenderness is unfurling itself upon the landscape.

On my answering machine is a sweet message that I have saved since Thanksgiving, 2010. The message goes something like this.

“Hi Gwamah…” It’s the soft drawl of Elias, my then two and a-half-year-old grandson.

“Hi Grandma,” repeats Elizabeth, my daughter, in her beautiful, clear voice. “We hope you’ve had a very happy Thanksgiving. We miss you.”

Long pause… “I wuv you!” His newfound small voice bursts through the phone lines right into my heart. I’m surprised and delighted that he knows this magic phrase.

“We love you…” Elizabeth’s voice is filled with gentleness and the joy of her small fry finding some mastery with the language.

Another pause.

“We wuv you!”

“Bye-bye, Grandma.”

“Bye-bye, Gwamah-h-h,” his soft, sing-songy little-boy voice drifts off. Click.

Why have I saved this message for all these months? Love is contagious, and I do adore that little one and his mother. But it’s more specific for me. Each time I hear that gentle, innocent voice, my eyes well-up with tears. My chest hurts. Tenderness. Its soothing balm chases all pessimism out the door in a 15 second message. I’ve noticed that our inner cynic and skeptic bow before the power of tenderness. Our faces crinkle up, our eyes moisten while we look away or reach for tissues. We put our hands on our hearts. We might be stoic for a bit, but then the flood of emotion renders us helpless in its wake, or at the very least, softened.

My son-in-law, Jim, cries at weddings. Big cries. He’s a legend in his own time. He can’t explain it. He simply is overcome with tenderness at the remarkable nature of love and the wedding ritual. We smile. Sometimes we join him. We appreciate the greatness of his heart shining through.

Years ago I had the privilege of counseling a young minister. One day he mentioned that he hardly ever cried and he wondered about that. “Whatdoes make you cry,” I asked. He thought for a moment and then told me there were two things, the first I’ve since forgotten. The other was tenderness. “Tenderness makes me cry,” he sighed. It didn’t matter if it was a happy event or a sad one; the important thing was the aliveness, the realness he experienced with tenderheartedness.

It’s the way I choose lasting friendships—the tenderness odometer. It’s the way my smart inner child judges the terrain. It’s the way soulfulness shines through at unexpected times and everyone drops their walls.  I am awed by the way our innate vulnerability and tenderness sneak up on us and crash through our veneers. Tenderness is the place we all share. I like that shared region. I champion it.

When a client enters this delicate area of their psyche, I’m there holding open the door for deeper viewing. When bravado falls to the floor and the tears come, this lovely room in the heart sparkles. Social masks fall away. A more authentic self finds room to grow. And if folks are receptive to the gift, a soft compassion welcomes them home again.

We are in tender times. Sensitivities are heightened. Despair and uncertainty can cloud—or ignite—our vulnerable places. So remember, when tears threaten your composure, you aren’t alone. You might be just about to offer your tears to the great heart we share. You might be just about to melt into the cosmic bosom that not only comforts, but sends you forth again as a more whole and courageous explorer. Or perhaps, somewhere or somehow, if you are very quiet, you will hear a soft little voice reminding you that you are loved. You can’t beat that.