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Echándole Ganas: Tickles, Candles and a Revolution of Tenderness

Updated: Dec 10, 2022

By Brenda Riojas I Start Wondering Columnist

Hurricane season makes me worry. I dread the unpredictable, capricious nature of these storms fueled by warm waters, moist air, spiraling winds. Be prepared, we’re reminded.

However, it’s not just this season that presents such uncertainty. Throughout our daily pilgrimage, a host of unknown storms bully their way into our peace. The pandemic certainly terrorized the world in 2020 and continues to keep us on alert.

Yet what we find in these moments is a greater need for community – for our presence to give strength to one another, for our creativity to keep afloat, for others to literally and figuratively embrace us. As women with multiple roles – daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, caregivers, co-workers, friends – we often run to the side of those who need us. How can we sustain each other, give each other shelter from the storms?

Strength Together

Pope Francis, in his Moment of Prayer before the world on March 27, 2020, reminded us we must work together especially during crises. “Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm,” he said. “We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.”

Years earlier, in his 2017 TED Talk titled “Why the only future worth building includes everyone,” the pope spoke about our need for one another. He called for a revolution that begins with an “us.” This is a revolution of tenderness, which he describes as, “… a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears, and the hands.” Tenderness comforts others and takes care of those in need.

Brenda’s mother-in-law

Brenda’s mother-in-law

Building Creative Community

When we think about creativity, we might initially think about the art of making, design, or even problem-solving. Let us not forget about the creativity we bring to relationships, to the encounter with one another.

In these encounters, in this building of our community, it is my hope that we can find ways to lift each other up. Together we can raise our smiles like the sunflowers to the sun, and rest at night, so we are ready to start each day again con animo, echándole ganas (with enthusiasm, giving it our all).

This is one of the main reasons I am grateful to be a part of the I Start Wondering team. We are each looking for ways to share, grow, to build community.

Recognizing that we learn from one another, we nudge each other on the journey forward. We help one another open doors and windows to new possibilities, pulling open the shades when moments of darkness, doubt, and despair try to take hold. We accompany each other and find ways to uplift and heal. We impart our stories and lessons learned, our failures and successes. By trusting in the abundance that life offers, we find ways to share, to bring forth joy from each moment.

Count it all joy, St. James tells us. But sometimes, when the clouds are heavy, counting it all joy takes effort. It takes a friend or a loved one to help see the joy. No matter our age or the season in which we find ourselves, wouldn’t you rather be a joy maker–a Tigger–and not an Eeyore?

The metaphor of giving light as giving joy has long been used. Contemporary religious author Karen Ehman was inspired by the metaphor in William Lonsdale Watkinson’s 1907 sermon: “…it is far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.” In her book “Make Their Day: 101 Simple, Powerful Ways to Love Others Well,” she reiterates, “We need to be lighting candles.”

To light candles–to inspire joy–we must be intentional. One of my favorite poems, “A Deed Knocks First at Thought,” by Emily Dickinson, reminds me that opportunities are lost when we do not move forward with our good intentions.

A Deed knocks first at Thought And then — it knocks at Will — That is the manufacturing spot And Will at Home and well It then goes out an Act Or is entombed so still That only to the ear of God Its Doom is audible. by Emily Dickinson

Creatively Embracing Others

To light that candle, consider the people in your midst. What can you do for them today that could spark joy, tickle their senses awake, and make them smile? When was the last time you surprised someone? Or checked in on an elderly neighbor, a widowed aunt or uncle, your own aging parents?

My 89-year-old mother-in-law came to live with us during the pandemic. It required some adjusting, some creative thinking. The pandemic disrupted all our lives. It cast clouds that take some effort to push away. My mother-in-law left her home of 50-plus years where she and her husband raised five children. She left it, uncertain of when—or if–she would return.

Spending time with her made me more aware of the need to find creative ways to help the elders in our community, and it starts close to home. I am reminded daily we are all on the journey, at different stages, facing different realities of aging.

In our revolution of tenderness, sometimes the little things make a difference. Pouring milk into a lighter container so that she can access it more easily from the refrigerator instead of the heavy gallon. Teaching her how to use an iPad to connect with family members via Facebook. Birdwatching and short hikes are good-mood boosters, as is a short ride to get an ice-cream cone.

Some Sundays, most of her children and grandchildren set aside time to play a few virtual rounds of loteria (Mexican bingo). Together, we are developing a list of other activities that could keep her engaged mentally and physically active. No matter our age, we all want to live healthy lives, and we want that for our loved ones.

Making Creative Adjustments

In the process, we need to be open to making adjustments as different realities emerge. Listen, pay attention. We also need patience with one another, always operating from a place of love, understanding we each come imbued with different temperaments and personalities.

Can we admit for a minute that we each have had a few persnickety moments, a few growls, and bone picking? Let’s concede that our elders will have these moments as well. Recognize that they are dealing with emotions they may not be readily sharing. They may be lonely, frustrated, fearful, confused, feeling like their lives are steeped in the seven plagues of Egypt.

Let’s help them through these moments. Let’s nudge them toward the joys of life, tickle them with surprises, light a candle, dance, and sing – grateful we are alive and in this together.

In the words of an oft-repeated exhortation from our local bishop, “Si no caminamos juntos, no vamos a llegar.” (If we do not walk together, we are not going to get anywhere.)

Who are you going to light a candle for today?

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