All the Tenderness There Is

It was Memorial Day weekend and Stephen King was at a drive-in movie in Brewer, Maine.

His wife was pregnant, he was an unknown author, and they were barely making rent.

Mr. King sat in his car with a friend and a beer watching the holiday triple feature. At some point during The Corpse Grinders, a voice came on over the drive-in’s loudspeaker system:

“STEVE KING, PLEASE GO HOME! YOUR WIFE IS IN LABOR! STEVE KING, PLEASE GO HOME! YOUR WIFE IS GOING TO HAVE THE BABY!”

As Mr. King recounts in On Writing, he drove out of the theater and hundreds of strangers flicked their headlights and beeped their horns in honor of the forthcoming baby.

And for a moment, the Brewer drive-in was filled with love.

If given a chance, we people are capable of straightforward tenderness towards strangers. Capable of sharing reverence for life’s beginnings, endings, and the common courage it takes to live in between.

Sometimes we don’t take the chance. We don’t put a buck in the terrific musician’s hat, don’t chase after someone who dropped a scarf, don’t tell artists how much their work meant to us.

In these moments, we forget what we’re capable of. We forget that we’ve got this massive tenderness just below the surface. We forget how much that tenderness can impact someone. And we forget that we’re all sharing our short time in this big world together.

Let’s work to remember. Remember that we’ve got it in us to take the chance. And that if there isn’t the chance, we’ve got it in us to make the chance.

I don’t know how much of The Corpse Grinders Mr. King remembers. But he sure remembers the honking.

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