Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
– Naomi Shihab Nye, “Kindness,” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems.
* I first published this on Jan. 7, 2014, the first week of this site. I hold it as a beacon when days feel especially dark. A reminder that with the bad, also comes the good, eventually. And that sometimes we can only truly know the good, appreciate the good, from having experienced the bad. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore. Nothing else makes any sense these days, despair and then kindness. And then maybe Jack Kerouac’s pancakes.
3 thoughts on ““Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye (repost)”
A wonderful poem. I often find it difficult to be kind to others when that kindness is so seldom returned. It’s a lesson I have yet to breathe in fully.
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In _True Love; A Practice for Awakening the Heart_, the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: “Caring for yourself, reestablishing peace in yourself, is the basic condition for helping someone else. So that the other can stop being a bomb, a source of pain for ourselves and others, you really have to help him to defuse the bomb. To be able to provide help, we have to have a little calm, a little joy, a little compassion for ourselves.”
And later he wrote: “The practice of being there with what is beautiful and with what is healing is something we should do every day, and it is possible to do this in everyday life.”
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Kindness is liberating. It’s hopeful – sometimes it’s the only thing. Thank you for sharing this (again) – printing and tacking on the bulletin board.
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