SHORT NAILS AND CALLOUSES

The sheets were crisp and white, just the way he liked them. The gauze blanket was tucked in tight at the foot of the bed. Being a military man, these things meant a lot to him. I hated hospitals and I hated visiting anyone in them even more, but there I was sitting at the foot of 
his bed. I found it odd and ironic that I was sitting at the feet of the man who had caused so much pain for me and my family throughout the years. If I had to think of three adjectives to 
describe him they would be self-righteous, disparaging, and condescending. Still, I was 
compelled to sit at his feet. I started to rub his legs through the lightweight blanket. As I rubbed, I began to feel the greatest comfort 
coming from this shell of a man who had always made me feel “less than.”

Hearing the death rattle in his body made me uncomfortable. My throat felt thick and I wanted to clear it. Then it 
happened. I moved to the side of the bed and took his hands in mine and held them. You can tell a lot about a person by looking closely at 
their hands. His nails had been bitten down to the quick and the callouses were astonishing. I 
had never noticed them before on this once strong, virile, and meticulous man who was now dying from 
cancer. Why were his nails so short? Why was his skin so rough? He was always the one on top of 
his game, impeccably dressed, always in charge. How could this be? That moment changed me 
forever. A tenderness washed over me that remains to this day. It was in those hands that I saw his humanness for the first 
time. I  realized that he was just like the rest of us – vulnerable, lonely, afraid, and uncertain. I watched my 52 year old brother-in-law give up his life that day, but he left his gift behind. His hands had transferred a 
tenderness into me that allowed me to forgive him for all of the pain I’d been through. It was a memorable gift.

There is an almost forgotten language that happens when we are in a natural or vulnerable state. This forgotten language is called tenderness. I am not sure 
if tenderness has been forgotten or simply buried under all of the baggage we carry around each day, but the desire for tenderness is deeply couched in our 
individual psychological makeup. Without its presence, we feel dry and wooden. Both women and 
men intuitively sense when tenderness is present and when it is not.

When no anger or hidden agendas exist, the 
dance of tenderness can possess us. Tenderness can be experienced through 
many channels – a word, a simple touch, a Band-Aid on someone’s finger, a glance from the eyes 
of another – but it is a direct hit experience when it is tasted and it can lead us to forgiveness. Tenderness is a 
meltdown. We are never the same once we experience it. All that exists and 
everything that matters is present with us during times of tenderness.

Tenderness is a magical 
process that transforms our base selves into something of true merit. It is the language of 
the heart and the soul and is therefore existential. Tenderness seems to be missing in our world today. I am on a mission to reclaim it.

“We win by tenderness. We conquer by forgiveness.”     Frederick W. Robertson

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