Try a Little Tenderness

Martha in the Finger LakesLove and grief inextricably entwined–the theme of Rajanaka Summer Camp, in early July in the Finger Lakes of New York. For three years we grieved the absence of in-person camps, so this, my fifth camp, was especially sweet. Connecting with other yogis, listening to myths, translations from Sanskrit and Tamil, the philosophy that flows from all of it brought me to the conclusion that love doesn’t cure grief.

Love just makes us hungry.

According to these ancient myths, the answer is Manda, also known as tenderness. Who is Manda? And what is tenderness? What does it look like? Feel like? Empathy maybe. Listening likely. I think of holding space for the one in grief, holding space for grief itself.

Manda isn’t a demon or a goddess, but something in between. Manda is the balm for Rudra’s grief. One of the “main gods,” Rudra grieves grief. Can you relate? He howls and weeps, and is inconsolable. Finally, when the world has had just had too much of his grief, they send Manda to Rudra. She is tenderness, and that’s what she meets his grief with–her tenderness. And his grief abates.

The challenge of love and grief got real when my family gathered in Oregon to see my youngest brother off for a three-year appointment in Bhutan. He’s had a rough few years, including being recalled from his last international appointment because of Covid, a divorce, and a goodbye to a home of more than 20 years. In spite of all that, and the pandemic, my siblings and I got really close. Or maybe because of it.

At the beachSo contemplating three years with him being 11 hours ahead of us on the global clock evokes some serious grief. Love and grief are inextricably entwined for sure. In May we committed to checking in with each other every day. So, we’re continuing that, with Dave’s texts coming in early evening (from the next morning) or in the evening… But now I’m getting myself confused!

So, toward the end of a vacation in Oregon, after lots of beach time, some hikes and kayak adventures, we gathered in the kitchen. Of course. Dave’s plane was leaving that afternoon, and he was eating his last home cooked leftovers before the long journey to Bhutan. He began by telling us he didn’t really want to come on this trip. He said it held a lot of memories of his young family, and vacations there over many summers.

He thought it would be just too sad. But then he told us that he was really glad he did come, because he couldn’t have felt more loved. I’ve teared up every time I’ve told this, and this time is no different. The lump in my throat is real. And that, my friends, is what tenderness is. Holding a space for love and laughter. Space for tears and sorrow. Memories sweet and bittersweet.

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