Zoe Todd

Tending tenderness

Tender. The GoogleOracle tells us this noun tender comes to us from the latin word tener (‘tender, delicate’). Tender has many simultaneous, contradictory even, meanings. It is the blush of pink roses on a prairie landscape after the rain and sky and night and moon have tended to these plants through harsh winter and riotous spring.

Tender, the verb: to offer money. To submit. A bid, a quote. (Thank you, Google).

We can tend to gardens, lavishing them with love and water and nutrients. Visit them day in, day out. Sing to the tender buds in the spring, sigh into the heady heat of late summer. Gather up their bounty in the autumn. Lay the bulbs and roots to rest for another rush through cold snap frost winter. Hush over their silent slumber through snowfall and ice crack and aurora borealis soaring above in inky starry skies.

Tender, the bruise. The painful flourish of broken blood vessels in sore flesh, the unmistakable evidence of impact against these meaty bodies that carry our hearts, minds, spirits. Tender, the meat that is beaten with a mallet to make even the toughest, sinewy cut of the animal’s body sizzle up and slide down our gullets with ease. Tender, the brutalization of flesh. To render a body tender. To brutalize it into vulnerability.

We tend to gill-nets. It is our responsibility to check them regularly, make sure the fish who swim into a net’s expanse have not waited too long to be retrieved, to make sure we acknowledge and honour these fish-gifts to us before they have floated, entangled in that lacework sighing through cool water, for too long. Tend to the reciprocity of fish, to their gift to us through eons such that we can survive in this not-always-tender earth and world(s).

Tender is a paradox. It is a vulnerability that can cut cloth and hide and fibre and stone in many ways. It can be a way of gathering us closer, of reminding us of the meditative, reciprocal work between us and our friends and family and more-than-human kin. Tending-to, tenderness. These are conditions of existence in a world built up through ever-shifting, ever-breathing, ever-going relations. Care, kindness. Love in its many refractions and dispersions.

But tender can be a shadow-self. Tender can the unbearable condition of trauma. Tender hearts. Tender flesh. A vulnerability without support. A beating heart, alone. Tender and naked. To submit to forces so overwhelming that our bodies and spirits are rendered tender. A quote for generations of violation. Tender is a simultaneous condition for connection and a symptom of too much connection. The kind of connection that renders you numb. 

How do I gather up those rose petals of tenderness? How do we acknowledge it exists in these many reflections and refractions? How do we tend to one another, hush and sing and care for each other, when some of us have felt too much tenderness. Too much connection. How do we tend to this ‘too much’, this ‘too much’ which manifests in ways that do not urge us out of the earth at the sun’s first blush to meet its return, but in fact triggers us to bury deeper into the soil, to find safety in its embrace? How do we hold space for these many experiences of tenderness?

Tender. To tender a resignation. To offer. Delicate. Easy to chew. Cooks well with root vegetables.

How do we make space for all of this in a world so bent on certainty. How do we tend to tenderness?

Tender tener tendre. Approach it with care, dear. Approach it with care.