permission to linger
on being (a) tender
I realized recently that I started college in 2014—almost ten years ago. I have been thinking about how higher ed has shaped me—in ways I love and in ways I want to resist. So this week I want to focus on this very simple affirmation that I hope shapes my scholarship and ways of living.
I want to be (a) tender. I put the “a” in parenthesis in hopes that you would read at least two or more meanings into this desire.
I remember when I was first diagnosed with acid reflux, after my second semester at a four-year college. There were certain days when I only had 15 minutes for lunch. I would run in and grab a slice of pizza and eat while I ran to my next class. I would read my textbooks while I scanned student IDs at the front of the cafeteria. I studied my flashcards on the days I served entrees at one of the stations. My face was always in a book or taking notes. My shoulders were sore from carrying heavy books and binders in a bag ill-fitted for the task. Acid reflux would become just one of the many health issues I encountered in higher ed. I was willing to sacrifice my body to get good grades, sometimes collapsing over the semester breaks.
Soon I would slowly grow to figure out what issues I wanted to center in my studies—what I wanted to tend to. With that, I would realize that my body needed my attention and required me to notice its tenderness.
our tenderness looks different
I sometimes think of softness, gentleness, and tenderness as interchangeable terms. Even “sensitive” lives in this cluster of words. Today am thinking about what it means to be tender, or a tender. Someone who is gentle, takes things slow and remains sensitive and vulnerable.1
I think about how many of us became tender because of the violent realities we live in. Some of us have been misused and abused into a kind of tenderness that feels like an endless spiritual bruise.
A brokenness was beaten into you. This is a tenderness, too.
Some of us have grown up to be hardened, we have spent our tending energies on creating shells to keep out all the bad. Sometimes the risk of getting hurt means we also keep the good out as well.
Can we be tender together?
Some may say no because it hurts too much to open your heart to the world. Could you make room for a sliver of tenderness to weaken your shell? Allow someone to hold you in tenderness in ways that help you soften? Do you believe you are worthy of being handled with care?
These are your landing tracks, by the way. You may return here for a moment of self-reflection when you finish reading. If you also want to practice permitting yourself to linger as you read, I hope you can circle back and land here.
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permission to linger wrote about setting the intention to show up for herself. This intention was drawn from the song “God Morning,” on the aptly named album “Handle with Care,” by Natalie Lauren. I am not particularly good at having an intention for the year, but I do know the feeling of seasons pulling at your focus in different ways. As I read her piece, I saw an invitation to consider how I might try my hand at this practice, even if it takes a different shape.
I think of how often scholarship was presented to me as someone who has become intellectually accomplished while neglecting their bodies…or they are able-bodied enough to push through in ways I could not. Strangely, while I have felt like I was not like this image of a disembodied intellectual, I mourn the loss of so many opportunities to just be over the years. There were so many events I had to say no to because I was too tired to go.2 There were so many times when the intensity of what I was learning could not be turned off. Life around the official work felt like work.
As someone who is on a journey of reclaiming and affirming what has always been contemplative and mystic about me, I see setting an intention to be (a) tender as a practice of affirming these identities. So I want to give myself permission to linger.
I am in a season where I can be unhurried a lot more than in previous seasons. I am less attached to the systems that sought to harm me and the cultures/socialities that othered me into oblivion…and still the ways of being formed by survival move in me.
I am taking time to be tender with the woman in this body, as we move towards a tenderness of our choosing. Here are some of the many ways I hope to live this in the coming year:
I want to enjoy quality time with my friends with as little interference as possible from our technological distractions. I want to write letters again. I am practicing my calligraphy a lot more. This is one of my favorite contemplative practices. I want to recover a third space (or two) in the physical world.3 (This may sound silly to some of you, but since I live in the Northeast. Cold is more than just the weather up here.) I will permit myself time to reflect on what I have learned and how my body is holding it all. I will write. I will share when it feels right. I will hold the affirmations that meet me in the making and remaking of myself.
🐦⬛ ….I did say circle back
Please return to the section on how “our tenderness looks different” for some questions to engage. But in case you are one who never looks back, here’s a question for you as you go forward: Where do you feel called to be tender? Where do you feel called to be A tender? How do you resist the pull to move through the world without lingering? Are you finding it hard give yourself permission to linger………even now?
🐦⬛ Listen in
Also, my colleague in softness,invited me to cohost this season of his podcast, Black Coffee & Theology! Here are some links for enjoying it (Spotify / Apple Podcasts). In our first episode, “Black and Alive,” I expand on some of the same themes I've explored in this post. This is communal tender work.
🐦⬛ Join the…..wait, what should we call ourselves?
Thank you to those who are already paid subscribers! I’ve decided I don’t like that term—it sounds….like a financial transaction. And sure, it is true on the base level. However, in the ways I imagine “a gentle landing,” I think of feathers coming together to soften the fall.4 I think of those who say, “Rose, your words are valuable and thus, I want to support your ability to keep writing them.” I want to honor the sense of lightness, care, and support that is made possible when someone decides to be a paid subscriber.
As if you have joined a flock of some sort. For fun here are some suggestions, with the help of ChatGPT…brace yourself for the inevitable corniness and pick the least cringe-worthy one.
🐦⬛ Some brilliant art to linger with
My friend Melanie Walby is putting together a book…but it’s not any book—it’s a collection of her rich typographical artwork. Her work can be described as “the culmination of studying theology, working in advertising for almost a decade, a heart for justice, and a passion for confronting hard truths and necessary actions through art and design.” I walked through her beautiful Clear Water exhibit in 2022 and now that walkthrough is being made into a book. You can read more of the story of this book’s becoming and support her work on Kickstarter. This is a tender work.
🐦⬛ Linger in celebration of the diversity of Blackness
Check out this resource, writer of Raising Myles is putting together for Black History Month. What I love about this resource is that…it’s more than a resource. It continues to prove to me that community is possible, even on platforms that push us towards individual striving. This is a tender work.
If you find time, look at this list of definitions for “tender.” I have sprinkled them all over this post, but especially here.
There were also invitations I knew to say no to because they would not honor and dignify me. The invitation to life-denying work (often disguised as leisure) was ever-present in the predominantly white spaces I was a part of.
This will be difficult because I hate small talk. I am also often too strategic about how I relate/make time for relationships for most people. Learning how to yield my strategic urge to serendipity will be a goal within this goal.
Oh, trust that I see how we can get into this later and ruffle some folks’ eschatological frameworks.