Tender, Fierce and Wise

A few weeks ago, I read this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Shoulders

“A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say
FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.”

Oof.

“We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.”

My mind has been consumed lately with how we learn to be together in this world we find ourselves in.  With how we learn to hold each other in this world.  With how we learn to let ourselves be held.

My mind has been consumed lately with the family of Philando Castile, as the person who murdered him walks free.  With Tamir Rice, who should have turned 15 today.  With Nabra Hassanen, her family and her friends.  With the mistrial of Bill Cosby and the injustice to women everywhere as we are told, again, that our bodies and our words don’t matter.  With my client who witnessed gun violence outside their home.  With the fact that I had to write a letter to authorities for a patient in the event their behaviors should be found unnecessarily “suspicious.” With the many fears and resiliencies I see every day.  With the safety plans I put in place that actually make no assurance of safety.  With the ways we continue waking and being and walking alone and together.

Have you read Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?  It’s an incredibly beautiful book.  The protagonist – a young boy who is grieving the death of his father following his death in the World Trade Center, says this:

“What if the water that came out of the shower was treated with a chemical that responded to a combination of things, like your heartbeat and your body temperature and your brainwaves, so that your skin changed color according to mood? If you were extremely excited your skin would turn green, and if you we’re angry you’d turn red, obviously, and if you felt like shiitake you’d turn brown and if you we’re blue you’d turn blue.

Everyone could know what everyone else felt and we could be more careful with each other, because you’d never want to tell someone who skin was purple that you’re angry at her for being late, just like you’d want to pat a pink person on the back and say, “Congratulations!”

“Everyone could know what everyone else felt and we could be more careful with each other…” he says.

He also says, “In bed that night I invented a special drain that would be underneath every pillow in New York, and would connect to the reservoir. Whenever people cried themselves to sleep, the tears would all go to the same place, and in the morning the weatherman could report if the water level of the Reservoir of Tears had gone up or down, and you could know if New York is in heavy boots.”

And, “What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls? When you skateboarded down the street at night you could hear everyone’s heartbeat, and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar…”

What if we had to hear one another’s hearts?  What if we could see others’ moods on their skin, and our weather people could report on how many people in our city had cried themselves to sleep?  What would our world look like right now?  Would we be able to stand it?  Would we be able to live as we have been living?

What would change?

“We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.”

When I was a very new therapist – like, a very new therapist (possibly within my first few months of therapisting) – I wrote a poem which contained these words:

‘I peer
lately
into strangers’ eyes and wonder
“do you also house a cavern of
despair and
hope and darkness and
sunlight and –
something –
unnameable?”’

As a not-so-very-old, but so much more wise therapist, the answer to this question is, of course, yes.  Yes.  We all hold caverns of so much.  We must hold one another tenderly: as tenderly as a parent crossing the street, holding a sleeping child, carrying their dreaming breaths in their soul.

But y’all, we must also be wise in our holding.

We must be as wise as if we could hear heartbeats and see emotions on skin and measure the tears of the city.  Because we know the people for whom the road is already wide.  We know the people for whom the rain is already falling.  We know these are people who are marginalized: people of color.  Poor and low-income people.  Trans and LGBTQ+ people.  Muslims.  Women, and particularly women of color.

If we are not wise in our holding, we will not make change.  If we do not remember that tenderness is fierce, we will not make change.  If we do not find the faithful love of a people dedicated to holding one another – we will not make change.  If we do not remember that some people have been standing in this rain on this wide street for a long time and that they know the traffic and the weather patterns and the best places to cross and where to purchase the best umbrellas – and that we should listen to them – we will not make change.

My mind has been consumed lately with how we learn to be together in this world we find ourselves in.  With how we learn to hold each other in this world.  With how we learn to let ourselves be held.

We may not be able to narrow the road or stop the rain. But can we provide shelter from the storm? Can we learn to stand solidly in the rain?

Let us learn to be tender, fierce and wise as we carry dreaming breaths and heartbeats forward together.

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