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.
by Naomi Shihab Nye
A line of this poignant poem by this wonderful poet popped into my head yesterday evening on post election day, when I walked the 5 minute walk from Glasgow Central station to Queen Street station to get the train home. I found myself counting fifteen (homeless?) people sitting on the ground in the freezing drizzle, asking for money, with a steady stream of people (myself included) passing by… ‘how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness’. No answers there, except for silent prayers.
When I searched for the poem online, I also found a little excerpt of an interview about how the poem came into being. Hearing the story gave a new layer to my appreciation of the poem… I don’t know who first said or wrote the phrase “kindness changes everything”, but I really had a sense of it as I listened to Naomi’s words. Let’s practice it, day by day…