the princess and the pea
I've been told, and I believe, the gardens are grateful for the cold. And, it's true, the rain, though icy, is somehow watering the forsythia, whose canary blossoms will herald spring. Still, even with this knowledge, something about a New York City winter makes for a hard go of it.
I could enumerate the "something" here, but that would pull me away from the subject at hand, which, as you may have guessed, isn't cities or flowers but tenderness. Tenderness lurks in harsh conditions when one feels the vulnerability of being a human animal walking upright against the wind.
For instance, there's tenderness in the way I misremember the woman from the county clerk's office calling me "sweetheart." In actuality, she might have said "dear," or perhaps there was no term of endearment at all. But in our brief exchange a few weeks ago, in this call to be crossed off my "to do" list, her voice was a rope, a tether. It wasn't the help she offered, though she was helpful, it was the tone of her voice, her kindness--so different from cheer.
If we, this stranger and I, were walking alongside each other down a New York City street, shoulder to shoulder, in our rain boots or snow boots, me and this woman I've never seen, perhaps someone, another stranger, walking in the opposite direction, might glance at us, might say we "favor" each other, might confuse us for family, because in this woman's voice was a kind of kinship.
And I think this is what tenderness is: a reclamation of kinship, a reminder of how little it takes to demonstrate care, and in return, how little it takes to feel saved from forgetting, for a second or a season, that we're bound by a durable fragility, an enduring fragility that as long as it lasts, as long as we're breathing, is, in fact, indestructible. Tenderness reminds us of what can't be broken and of what is always in danger of breaking.
Pouring tea into two cups from a ceramic pot the color of grass. The few extra breaths in a long embrace. A friend singing on a voicemail. The woman at the county clerk's office--in the middle of winter, in the middle of the week--I'm saying her voice tended to me. These small gestures are like the Hans Christian Anderson tale about the princess and the pea—the one where the princess is up all night because beneath twenty mattresses and twenty feather-beds is a single pea she can feel: this makes her a real princess. We are all princesses, but instead of sleeplessness we're allowed to rest in each other. Such a small pea tenderness is.
11 February 2018