over the past three years, this has been one of the words that nearly always makes me want to cry. just the idea of it, the sound of it, the feeling of the word in my mouth, is enough to get that sparkling feeling in my eyelids. but also, being held gently. touched gently. looked at with gentle eyes. gentleness in general, but especially, the idea of being gentle with myself.
i remember actually doing a google search a few years ago on how to be gentle to yourself. because i had no fucking clue. i read through it all voraciously – i really needed to understand these search results, the why of it, the how, all of it – it seemed my life depended on it. i remember this article coming up during my search, and i printed it off and carried it with me until really recently. it grew tattered, stained, with the ink faded along the folds, but even now, these words are a lullaby to my soul.
i’m marginally better at gentleness with my self, these days, and part of that has been about embracing the younger parts of me, the terrified little one who is just desperate to be loved and held and to have her big big feelings contained. who just wants safety, care, presence, and steadiness. who did not have a lot of gentleness at home. in fact, she had more than her share of sternness, brusqueness, and ‘toughening up.’ she is tough, so tough, but she just needs some softness. we all do, i think.
i also have my daughter to thank for helping to connect me to my wee one. for facilitating my learning these useful, life-saving skills for the child in me. for grounding me, for demonstrating how kids are, how they think, and what they need.
sometimes, when i’m able to stay adult in the midst of a difficult fury-storm with her, when i can listen to all the outlandish things she says, as she rages and stomps and pummels me with unfair words, if i open my arms, she will just fall in, limp, melting into my embrace, soaking my shirt with her sorrow.
as much as possible, i want to be her safe space to land. i want to become what i never got, both for her and for me. i want to gentle us both into stronger, softer people.
today, i was at the hairdresser, and at one point, in the midst of doing her job, she stroked my cheek (i think in sweeping my hair away) and tears sprung to my eyes. why would she be so gentle with me? also today, in the middle of getting a hug from my therapist, after a hard session, she said (softly, entirely unexpectedly and without provocation) that she loved me. my knees nearly buckled from the love in it.
i could listen all day to people criticizing me and manage to deal with that. but gentleness is my undoing.
in searching for a poem i was sure i wrote on the topic (which i haven’t found…pocketbrit, have i ever sent you such a thing, on gentleness?!), i found pages and pages (and pages) of times when pocketbrit and i used the word gentle with each other.
nearly always, being gentle with her is second nature to me. i want to be gentle to and with her, because i adore her, and it is one of the easiest things to do (especially with little pockebrit, the sweet little imp that she is, with two of the brightest, saddest eyes i know).
but just a few days ago, i was not gentle with her, nor was i gentle with myself. instead of not siding with the meanness of our pasts, instead of not contributing further to our suffering, i added my voice to the mix, helped feed Shame and Fear until they got so big they swallowed us both up. and, as you can imagine, it was fucking terrible. sent myself spinning, helped to send her spinning, both of us into orbit, far away from each other’s galaxies. into the lonely, dark depths of our pasts.
i have missed her dearly. we are making our way back, heavy with regret, cloaked in guilt, still shrugging off the vestiges of shame for the words we chose, the actions we were compelled to take, the choices we made. with oceans of sad in our hearts for the conflated hurts and traumas we carry, and how they veil our eyes and prevent us from knowing the truth.
so, i’m ending this night at the sea, alongside her slumbering form, and i’m gently smoothing the hair away before i kiss her foreheard goodnight. very quietly, nearly under my breath, i am saying my favourite part of max ehrmann’s poem ‘desiderata’:
…be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
This feels like such shake-your-head-in-disbelief kind of impeccable timing. Because being gentle, both to myself and others is something I’ve been struggling with these last couple of days. (And by struggling with, I mean I’ve failed 120%. I’ve been terrible, with everybody…)
The first thing I thought this morning when I read this word, whilst still reeling, still terrified and armoured up, and angry, was a feeling. This is what I wrote:
Being gentle is to walk up to somebody, remove all your layers, to stand in front of them naked and be stupid enough to hand them a choice of perfectly sharpened instruments from which to choose. To just stand there as they split you in two, disembowel you, tear through to your very core, entrails spilling out. It’s to be weak and vulnerable, and it’s asking to be hurt. Its allowing it to happen and putting up no fight.
Safe to say, those words came from a very young, scared, walled up place. Where a child trusts nobody but themselves, where they let no one in, where nobody is safe, and everybody is a threat. Where they stay so closed up, rely on only themselves. And tonight, many hours later, that feels unbearably sad to me. The grief in growing up being scared to open yourself up to gentleness is a tidal wave ready to drown me. And I haven’t cried properly (without shutting it off) for far too long, which explains why today it came all of a sudden, when I thought I was okay, and I just couldn’t control or stop it, however hard I tried.
So this week I’ve failed in being gentle all around. I’ve not been gentle to the people that I love, because I’ve been living in a place of threat and fear, even though it was my trauma talking, and so the threats and fear were based moreso in the past than the present. And I’ve also not been gentle to myself. Generally I think (I hope) I’m a fairly gentle person, and had I been thinking differently when I wrote the aspire post, this is definitely something I aspire to be, both to myself and to others. But it’s not always the easiest.
In terms of being gentle to myself, it’s something I find very hard a lot of the time – pc and I are very good at being gentle with each other and others, but both of us find it a great deal harder to grant ourselves the same gentleness. If I try to think why, I think its because it comes from a place of never having received that, and where receiving it feels like a trap, not genuine, only to be swiped back when you don’t expect it. Gentleness wasn’t well practiced in our household. Terror, fear, anger, hostility…yes. Gentleness…no. And it wasn’t safe. That’s the part that breaks my heart extra tonight. That I had to tell myself to toughen up, that it was no big deal, to stop thinking about it and get on with it. Because there was no space for anything else, and anything else would have led to even more hostility, anger, annoyance. It simply wasn’t safe. I had to deal with it alone, and to do that I needed to wall myself up, and be strict and tough on myself. That I blamed myself, and still often do, to keep myself strong. And now, I just wish I could go back to little me, and little pc too, and be the gentle loving soul that we both desperately needed.
And yet it’s funny, because I was always known in school for being kind, and considerate and, I think, gentle. I won school awards year after year for a combination of those things. And maybe that’s just me, how I was born, or maybe more likely, I think it’s something I learnt to be through knowing what I needed, what I wish people had given to me, and subconsciously, becoming the kind of person I wish there were more of in my life. And there’s a somewhat selfish aspect to this, in that being gentle to other people also feels like being gentle to myself at the same time somehow.
So this post feels all over place, and I don’t think it makes much sense, and I feel like there’s more I wanted to say. But it’s been a long day and is now 2.55am here. So i’ll end by simply saying this word feels significant to my life. And I hope to always be gentle. Guarded when needed, but also gentle. Particularly to those I love… and that needs to start to include myself. That’s something I want to, actually need to, do better at. The little one in me has waited so long, and deserves that finally.