Because tenderness can be misconstrued as weakness, because weakness means vulnerability, because vulnerability can lead to pain, and because pain reminds us of our mortality, we live in a world that favors pleasure, invulnerability, strength, and ruthlessness over those fragile fragments of the human experience that make this life worth considering in the first place. I have seen how a show of tenderness will make a man an object of scorn, and a woman, a victim of tragedy.
If only you knew how bad things really are. I know when I am in the presence of greatness, not because I have some special ability to discern the wheat from the chaff, but because greatness insists on making itself known. We each, after all, have a receiver attuned to the sudden beauty of a sky acceding gracefully to the hugeness of nighttime. But greatness is an issue of scope, not philosophy. Its bruteness can fall on me like a blow. I walk through the city, for instance, and amid the flickering traffic lights, painted roads, pulsating crowds, I feel the awful greatness of extinction press on me. Nothing about this current life, I feel, can last.
So I entrust my life to art, because it is the only company I know that can soothe me. Art remains the only greatness I can let myself witness without fear or shame. I read books that don’t help me decode any of my present worries, but nonetheless serve to calm them. I watch movies and let myself cry with emotion at their purity—not the purity of their morals, but of their expression. I talk to someone new with as much earnestness as I can muster, because all too often I can let an encounter pass me by without paying homage to the accretion of tenderness in how a stranger extends a hand or moves to let someone else by, and I know we will not get the chance to know ourselves and each other like this forever.