“Tenderness is accepting the weakness of the loved one.” Upon hearing philosopher Yann Dall’aglio define tenderness this way I couldn’t help but think of how I’ve grown in my relationships with my students at Mercy Vocational high school. As with any inner-city high school population there are many rough edges, plus I don’t know how to teach and I’ve made plenty of rookie mistakes; all of this adds up to some animosity but now, quite unbidden and unheralded, I find myself feeling quite fond of my students and yet nothing in the classroom or in their demeanor has changed. This leaves me wondering what happened! My best guess is that when I was able to cut myself some slack and be okay with not knowing how to do this ministry well, when I was able to be compassionate to myself, I became able to except the weakness and growing edges of those around me. I’ll have to look up who said you must first receive compassion in order to give compassion, but this idea that you must have in order to give seems to be a true dynamic in relationships especially those connections formed within ministry; and let’s be real no one can succeed at everything all the time so I’d be better off simply knowing my weaknesses and strengths, and not put undue pressure or self-value onto those things which do not suite me. So to take Dall’aglio’s point another way then I cannot be tender towards others until I accept my own weakness and know that my value lies fundamentally in all that I am, the core and center of my being, and not in what I do.
I think I understand why Catherine McAuley said that service is not for the salvation of others but also for our own salvation, or in today’s vernacular, for our own wholeness. I cannot learn and grow enough on my own; I need the help and insights of others in order to help me to get out of my own way. I have been growing in this understanding of the vow of service since I heard Anthony Gittins speaking on ministry. His constant reminder has come to me often in this experience: “…You are the one who has left home; you are the stranger in need of welcome…” I did not seek welcome when I entered the classroom in October, but I believe that my students have slowly welcomed me, and I have welcomed them into my life.