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 purchase bread,
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 everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
—Naomi Shihab Nye
There’s been a lot of negativity in my life lately: poor health of self and loved ones, poor attitude, anxiety-ridden work-life, imbalanced work/life, rancid and rancorous politics, bad news, lack of self-care. I’m trying very hard to find a good perspective and learn to maintain it. Honestly, I’m struggling. Work has become like a prison, where once it was freeing creatively. My body has become like a madman, one that can turn on me with no provocation and leave me reeling for days in pain. My mind has become a swirling chaos, not knowing where to look for the next handhold, the next limb. Nothing feels safe. Nowhere feels safe. I surround myself on the couch with books, in the hammock with books. I have no bed of my own anymore, or I would build a book fort there as well. I’m too distracted and distraught to read them, but I hope they are the right ones, and that I will be able to open them when the time is right.
I have a friend who practices “radical love” (or is it “radical kindness”). I’m not sure that’s my jam. Love requires touching, and mostly, I’d rather be left alone. I think.
I feel familiar with sorrow, but I am cognizant that I can’t even imagine.
This poem has the ring of a religious sentiment to me: a sort of judge not, lest ye be judged motif. I’ve always felt as if this was meant more as a warning for humans who feel they are “above” the world and its concerns, the grasping hands of disease, death, and depression that drag many of us down. It could happen to you. You may know sorrow someday. Until then, be merciful. Be merciful until you can understand kindness.