I decided to look it up, as I often do when a word captivates my imagination with the frequency of a mantra. I turned to my oldest dictionary, the one that has its own magnifying glass. It told me that in the first definition, the definition dating back to the 11th century, tender means “to hold out, offer, to stretch, hold forth – to offer or present formally for acceptance.” The second definition talks about money, so I pretty much skipped it. The third definition, the one my heart seemed most to seek, says tender means “to become tender, to be affected with pity, to grow soft, to soften; to render gentle or compassionate.”

 

As I scanned the tiny dictionary print, down one column and another looking at roots and countries of origin, first uses and verb forms, my mantra presented a task and a wish. 

 

The task is to offer. To hold myself out, to stretch the modest gifts I can share, to hold forth something, anything helpful. 

 

I translate this task into asking, to calling loved ones, to checking in, to talking more and longer, to saying “hey – how are you holding up?” in a way that invites an open answer, in a way that allows opportunities to help when help is wanted. In support of the social-distancing recommendations, I’ve significantly reduced in-person visits. Texting seems insufficient lately. In addition to wanting to hear my friends’ voices, I also want to see their faces. I’ve been using video chats more often than I used to use them. I don’t want to advance the pandemic, but I still want to be as close to my community as I can. The video chats help.

 

Recently, friends gave me a bottle of ketchup and a jar of canned applesauce from their cellar. I’d told them I was out of ketchup, and they know I love homemade applesauce. As I received those gifts, I was reminded that I’m going through the pandemic too. 

But the task is to ask. 

The wish? The wish is to become tender, to be affected with empathy, to grow soft, to soften. To press lightly where the injuries are. I want to slow things down, to be more patient, to remember every person I encounter is going through something they’ve never gone through before. The people I meet as I go about my day may be doing just fine, of course, but I hope I’ll remember that the people I encounter may be tired or anxious, afraid or wearing down, worried about the rent or grieving. What they will need, what all of us may need as we all go through this, is grace.

My wish for me, for you, for all of us is that we will be tender during these trying times, that we will offer what we have to offer, that we will go forward into this uncertainty together, taking the time to be gentle and compassionate – with each other and with ourselves.

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Michael’s story is part of Pollen’s “Are You OK?” initiative, a collection of stories, art, and virtual gatherings that documents how our collective community is processing and healing during the this global health and financial crisis. Check the collection regularly to hear from our creative community as we keep up with the changes and challenges before us. 


 

Michael Kleber-Diggs
Michael Kleber-Diggs is a poet and essayist. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s, Poetry City, North Dakota Quarterly, Pollen Midwest, Paper Darts, Water~Stone Review and a few anthologies. He enjoys collaboration with visual artists. Michael is a past Fellow with the Givens Foundation for African-America Literature, a past-winner of the Loft Mentor Series in Poetry, and the inaugural Poet Laureate of Anoka County libraries. His work has been supported by the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Jerome Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Michael is husband to Karen. Karen and Michael have a daughter who is an accomplished dancer.
Lissette Lopez Pridemore
is a multidisciplinary illustrator and designer living and working in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As a native of Guayaquil, Ecuador, she brings an exciting tropical flair to Minnesota's arts community.

Lissette believes in the importance of creating playful yet powerful work that tells stories around themes of mental health, social interaction, identity, diversity, empathy, and pop culture. More of her work can be found at Lstelo.com and her Instagram, @Lstelo.