Staying Tender Toward One Another
There have been periods of time throughout my career when I have wondered if I wanted to continue working in such visible fashion. With the addition of social media and access to thousands—while being accessed by thousands—there’s a whole lot of “putting myself out there” that occurs.
I stay away from politics publicly, for the most part. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a political post—and the comment thread that followed—that didn’t make me feel slaughtered afterward. But, I recently shared a piece about a local politician on my Facebook page, believing it was more about right versus wrong than liberal versus conservative.
“You have some nerve to share your opinions here,” said a commenter. “I want you to lose your job.” She’s correct about having some nerve—posting our thoughts and our lives on social media lets people know exactly where our flesh meets our bone. After 18 years of this writing and media gig, I’m accustomed to stretching my feathers out into the flame, because even though I write primarily on positivity and human connections, there are people eager to burn those words and thoughts right down to the ground. I navigate those conversations as gracefully as possible, with the understanding that people are rarely wrong about how they feel—even when they share their feelings with weaponry. The goal is not to return the favor. The goal is to stay soft in spite of the jagged nature of the world.
Two weeks prior, it was the Sunday after two mass shootings within 13 hours of one another. My emotions had been tender as I began that day, dodging unavoidable news reports of death counts and debates over whether or not the crimes were hate-motivated, along with the need for gun control versus the protection of second amendment rights. There were many words being fired out of mouth cannons, delivering shots to already wounded eyes, ears, hearts and minds. I posted to be a little kinder to one another that day; and someone retorted that it was too late for that, adding in a few harsh words about humans and our state of affairs. But, I challenged, punching someone in the face with your words, no matter how righteous they may seem, is still a punch in the face—no matter the content.
When I begin to feel choked out by the world, I like to dash to the lake. So, my son and I packed up the dogs and drove up to our good friends’ lake place on Deer Lake, a place we have spent a significant amount of time visiting over the last two years—no internet service is the softest place to sit for a bit. We sunscreened, and settled in—me with a book and the pooches on the dock, while my son hopped on a jet ski. As he zipped off, my friend Barbara came down from the cabin to join me. The weight of my body was still flattening out onto the chair when I asked Barbara if Tink, my little minpin, was on the other side of the chair. I had lost site of her after I had lifted her down from my lap. I hopped up to look toward the beach when Barbara said she wasn’t there. As I walked around the dock, I saw her little body floating, head down, in the lake. I cried out her name as I leapt into the lake and then held her dangling body above the water as I swam back toward the dock, toward Barbara’s hands as she extended them out to me as far as she could. Barbara began CPR as soon as Tink was in her arms and continued until I could swim around to get back up onto the dock. I rushed to her, crying out to God and the universe and whoever could hear me to help her. I took over CPR until two young men appeared on a jet ski, swiftly jumping onto the dock to take over. They were kind enough to exhaust all efforts in trying to bring life back into her, but it was too late. She was gone.
I cried and heaved and sobbed so hard every bone in my face felt broken, and I choked and gagged on my sorrow in ways I never had. I spent the majority of the first week in bed crying into my pillow or staring at a crease in the sheets, while trying to consider facing the cruelty of the world and mustering up the care to stay afloat with my heavy workload. In one work email exchange—in addition to sharing accolades about the recipients’ work in the community—I expressed my gratitude for their social media posts about their pugs. I typed, through tears, that I had lost my old girl and how devastated I was, but that I found comfort in knowing other people loved their dogs like they love their people, too. “I’ve been feeling kind of broken and increasingly helpless at the state of our world, not knowing how to make a difference in a way that would be meaningful for people who are in the crosshairs of some really horrific policies and also just this increasingly hateful culture of ours,” one of them replied. “So it’s really nice to hear the perspective that we’re all making the world a little bit better just by being good.”
And it should be, it should be, it should be like that … for all of us. After Tink died, I knew I wouldn’t be myself for a while. But I’m not sure I ever will be or even want to be because myself before had her gazing up at me, helping me feel like everything in a society that often tries to break us down to nothing. When I finally shared on Facebook that my little old sacred girl had crossed the rainbow bridge—and how much I was hurting—I was instantly scooped up in the thoughts, love, prayers, grace and goodness of hundreds and hundreds of people—even some who hadn’t before shown their predisposition of tenderness toward me.
I hope to hang on to the softness Tink created in me, and that which was shown to me by this community in the most brutal early days of my grief. And I hope we can all find ways to stay tender toward one another, even when we find ourselves in disagreement … perhaps more so then, than ever.
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