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By Stephen Berg

07/29/2015

In this fragile world we need tenderness

The dachshund barked at me. I was approaching a corner on my way home from a morning walk when it skittered out in front of me on its short legs, yipping incessantly. It was on a long leash and I hadn’t noticed the owner until he spoke. He was a large man, tall and heavy, unshaven and in a black sleeveless T-shirt. He gently pulled back on the dog leash, his face crinkled into an exuberant smile, and wagging his finger, he cooed, “Now no more barking, Maggie.”

This was a display of affection I was not prepared for. My first instinct was to laugh and I almost did. Then I felt embarrassed for the man, the way you feel embarrassed for some misguided soul on talk-radio going on about something so off topic that you can’t listen a moment longer. As I walked on, however, I began to feel ashamed for thinking this. He was effusive, yes, and there was this oddball quality to the whole scene, but his tenderness was real and genuine and there was no trace of embarrassment in him.

As I played this quirky display of tenderness over in my mind, I felt myself strangely lifted, proof my own soul needed some sun. And in this clearing I got to wondering about the many ways God’s presence moves into the human mix — ways that I miss.

We hear of, experience, and face more than enough sickness, loss, cruelty . . . and surely we are forgiven those times we accept this is as being the bulk of life. But I also see the danger. I see how it hardens me, builds a carapace around me and causes me to miss everyday moments of mercy — miss all the common, peculiar and playful contacts with the Spirit of God and so become, for all the world, a practical materialist.

Tenderness and affection must be watched for it to be kept alive, the way we watch for signs of spring to somehow ensure its arrival. Tenderness must be guarded, not mocked or derided. In this fragile world we need tenderness. We need fewer cynics and naysayers. We need more gardeners watching for “ifs” of green pushing up out of black dirt. And we need one another.

At the beginning of the movie Love Actually, the narrator points out, against the backdrop of what we witness every day on the evening news, that behind the scenes love is alive, that genuine tenderness and open affection is displayed around the world every moment of every day and we only need go to our local airport to see it.

I walked the rest of the way home and wondered about how this whole scene with the dachshund was a kind of picture of divine tenderness. So often I go skittering out into the world, chuffing away off balance, ungainly, unthinking. How comforting to know that God is not above playing an overweight bald guy that doesn’t shave, to pull me gently and tenderly toward maturity.

Berg works for Hope Mission, a social care facility for homeless people in Edmonton’s inner city. His poetry and prose have been in staged performances and have appeared in such publications as the Edmonton Journal, Orion, Geez, and Earth Shine. He blogs at growmercy.org