It started on a weekend…first just a dry cough and a hint of a sore throat, but by Tuesday a fever joined my growing list of symptoms. I called my doctor concerned it might be the flu or strep, but she ruled out both maladies as “unlikely.” Apparently, it is odd for someone of my vintage to get strep throat and, “it was awfully late in the year for flu.” Yes, I could take Tamiflu, but it really was “too late in the game.” So at the end of our conversation, she gave her only prescription…“tincture of time.” While, I really do appreciate my doctor’s cautious approach, I had wanted a quick fix. There was much that I wanted to do on my days off…weed the garden beds, mulch the bare spots, and clean off the porch. Work, also, loomed large with all the end-of-the-year tasks that fall on every educator. Yet, tincture of time was what it took…three days of bed and sofa-ridden boredom with only enough energy to troll Netflix re-runs, eat ice cream, and sleep. Finally on Saturday, I felt like Lazarus coming out of the tomb and began to rejoin the living.
As I reached the end of my illness, I stumbled across the news of Pope Francis’s TED talk referenced in one of my favorite blogs. In his talk, the Pope called upon his listeners to begin a “revolution of tenderness.” He defined tenderness as, “the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands.” The Pope reminded me that the world outside my sick-bay was still in need of care, but more significantly that I had not been suffering alone. I think I had taken my doctor’s advice as a sentence of solitary confinement not as an opportunity to receive love and tenderness from those around me. Yet, hadn’t I received grace from my doctor’s sage advice; my co-workers’ emails and texts; my daughter-in-law’s quick fix to my cancelled appointment; my sister’s phone call; and my husband’s week of gentle care? I humbly realized that I had not been alone as much as I had thought. The care and concern of others had surely healed me as much as the time I took to rest.
Pope Francis reminds us that we are all indelibly connected and “that each and everyone's existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.” Sometimes we must be challenged to give unselfishly to others, but we must also learn to accept and acknowledge tenderness when it is offered to us. Fortunately or unfortunately, we live in a world of quick fixes, but a “revolution of tenderness” would require us all to slow down enough to honestly see each other. It takes a concerted effort to deeply listen, look, and recognize the needs of those we know and encounter. Likewise, it takes time to acknowledge those who show and give us love each and every day. We are always in such a hurly-burly rush, and technology seems to exacerbate our speed. However, there is no quick fix for our malaise…no app for tenderness. It must be nurtured with attentive awareness and crockpot slowness. Yet, surely if given the tincture of time, tenderness could blossom in our hurting world.
Postscript: I recently came across a unique film project in Alabama. Filmmakers are touring the state and asking “regular” folks to read verses from Walt Whitman’s epic poem, “A Song of Myself.” It is being released a few verses at a time. As I watched the clip, I was reminded again of the Pope’s words, “each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others.” We are the prisoner, the aged, the infirm, the child, the immigrant, and the stranger. We can no longer afford to turn our eyes or our hearts from each other. Namaste, ~c.h.