I will celebrate my softness.
I went with H to the Royal Festival Hall, where the Four Last Songs moved me to tears; and she put her arm round me, and consoled me. I went with a different H to A Quiet Passion, the film about Emily Dickinson, and again was weeping helplessly; and H held my hand, and consoled me.
I have called it “sensitivity”, and thought myself not entitled to the word. It seemed to me that “sensitivity” could mean emotional responsiveness, but needed to include sensitivity to others’ feelings, and care for them. I observed that sometimes I would be deeply insensitive and judged myself for it. You don’t always realise, immediately, and realising later may be too late. Repressing my own feelings, I took refuge in analysing. I wrote a verse of a man and three women, in the first person, and someone observed that he could not imagine that a man who would feel in that way could write such a poem.
And so it felt merely like weakness and unmanliness, likely to prevent me from doing what I had to do, merely a problem. And even now it frightens me, as I imagine toughness might look like something quite different, and is necessary to achieve useful goals, or feel less distress.
Yet that aspiration to “toughness” judges and criticises my distress, so that I resent it, fight it, strengthen it and fail to process it. Tough does not mean unfeeling, and if it does I am not tough like that. Softness is only a liability if feeling strong emotions is a bad thing.
It is still hard to find something positive to say, though. I was weeping. I can at least be neutral: there is nothing shameful in that.
I don’t feel either H thinks less of me because of it, or wants to spend less time with me for it- even if I isolate those instances of weeping instead of imagining how I appear to them overall. I like to be kind, and while this characteristic may be elevated in me, I think they have it too. Softness and kindness together produce closeness.
Weeping is not the only manifestation of softness, but at that moment, the character “Emily Dickinson” revealed her dependence on her family, her fear and isolation from the World, and her apparent inability to improve her situation. I was keenly aware of that, and while I was responding to a dramatised portrayal would resonate similarly with real people in real situations. And I did. I met with CAB clients and expressing sympathy and fellow-feeling, and thereby reducing some of their distress, and after I found ways of recovering. If, later, I needed to protect myself from clients that was not my fault.
I am loving and gentle. I am still wary of that, and my wariness makes me not appreciate my softness properly. My softness is like a cat in the darkness, pressed into a corner. I do not see her properly, and she and I do not trust each other properly. If I can pay her attention, I will find how beautiful she is, and she may let me pet her, and share our warmth.
My softness is a way of being with others and knowing them, of bonding with them and nurturing; and it may yet nurture me.