Genro on Rte. 47, after listening to a reading by Tommy Orange

We all fuck up; it’s how we come back from it that matters.

That sentence jumped up at me last night from Tommy Orange’s incredible book, There There, about urban Natives. Orange did a reading of the book last week in the Odyssey Bookstore in Mt. Holyoke at the very same time that my friend, Genro Gauntt, who coordinates our retreats with the Lakota, was visiting. We both went to his reading and got books. Orange is an amazing talent, and the book has lots of sentences like the one above.

I would add one more sentence to his: We all get fucked; it’s how we come back from it that matters.

It doesn’t matter whether I’ve fucked up (I have) or I’ve gotten fucked by life, the same wisdom holds: It’s how we come back from it that matters. Crying and grieving about that original sin are important, facing what happened is important, because they begin the path of coming back. And coming back is up to me, nobody else.

Last week was challenging. Children are being separated from their parents at the Mexican border by our own government. It doesn’t matter that I wouldn’t do this if it was up to me, the United States is doing it, and that includes me. It feels Godawful. And reading Orange’s book is a mindbender, but also hard, hard, hard. Any window that sheds light on how whites continue to interact with Natives, how we still don’t seem to have gone round the curve of What have we done? and What are we still doing? needs to be opened.

It feels like a lot to carry. Usually I don’t fall victim to the I hate this country wail. No country is perfect, I tell people; the vows we make to awaken and help others awaken are for the long run, not just when things are going well. Still, this last week was tough.

Deer practically never come to the house because of our dog(s), but two came down to the house within one day, and I try to listen closely. Why? Because deer are warriors of tenderness.

Last week I wrote about the importance of kindness. One can give kindness to another, but you can’t really give tenderness. You’re either tender or you’re not. If you are, then tenderness naturally spreads around you.

Our system is not one of tenderness. It proudly proclaims its sole goal of pursuing one’s self-interest, which means the interest of the self. The interest of that constantly yapping, self-important, self-absorbed self. Tenderness is so much softer, deflating rather than inflating, reaching down to the deep essence of things and finding decency there and in everyone else. It’s right there, so palpable you could practically touch it.

I talk to many caregivers now. They work outside, they cook at home, they raise a family, normal working hours don’t exist for them, and often I hear their shoulds: I shouldn’t have gotten angry with her, I should have more patience, I shouldn’t be in such a rush all the time. They give and they nurture, but they lack tenderness. What I love about tenderness is that it always starts from the self. If you don’t got it for yourself, you can’t give it.

Look at how little we control in our lives. Don’t we need a lot of tenderness for ourselves and everyone else?

The deer who came down to the house will encounter bows and arrows in the fall, guns in winter. And still when they look at you, heads flung up, their eyes are full of tenderness. Death may be just around the corner for them, but their eyes are full of tenderness.