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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Number 172: Naomi Shihab Nye "Kindness"


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 every where
like a shadow or a friend.

-- Naomi Shihab Nye

Hap Notes: I just have a few comments to add to this wonderful poem. If we were not born to be happy then why do babies laugh? What's the point? When you are a child looking up at the sky and see a bird flying in the sky, the first time that you think; "I wonder what that feels like – to fly?"; you are actually planting the first seeds of empathy. How does it feel to be another?

Nye tells us that loss shows us something real and profound about existence; it ain't always easy. And sometimes it seems completely hopeless. How do we recover from losses? Some of the healing is the distance of time. Some of it may come from the kindness of others. When we understand that the tragedy of another is close to our own lives a variety of emotions can grow but one of them can be a vexing guilty willful indifference.

You know that feeling you get, when something bad happens to somebody else, that makes you say things like, "Well, they shouldn't have built a house by the river – it was sure to get flooded!" or "If you do something stupid like that you are bound to get hurt." As you say it, there's a little wing that beats in your chest or a little shadow on your shoulder that makes you feel a little crappy about saying such a thing. You may brush it off and say it louder, with more conviction to scare off that feeling but it's too late. Kindness is always tapping you on the shoulder. You are free to ignore it, but it will come back over and over again until you let it in. Often it takes some tragedy or trouble in your own life to see that.

I love the idea in the poem that kindness is what you have been looking for and has been looking for you. Kindness is a friend or companion that will follow you around the rest of your life.

In the end, the only person you really have to live with your whole life is you. You can choose to see misery and be resentful about the "thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" or you can feel a kindness towards others and wish for their well being. You'll feel better, richer and more connected to the earth if you feel kindly, even in the face of your own sadness.

The Buddhists say that one should treat each creature as if he/she was your own child. I wonder what the world would be like if kindness was the goal of each person? Do you imagine wars or poverty or crime or heartache would stem from this? What is the value of human life? What are we trying to achieve and why?

What is the cloth the poet is speaking about? What is the fabric of life, the tapestry of civilization, the flying carpet of existence, made from?

Here's where we have talked about Nye before:

The masthead is an inset of a photograph of Lubomir Bukov "Shadows of the Past." Isn't it delightful?

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