by Naomi Shihab Nye
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
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a
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
and the simple breath that kept him
Before you know kindness as the
deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other
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
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.
In the shadows of the hate which is being slung in every direction, I know sorrow. I love people deeply who have brown skin, who speak other languages, and came here as immigrants. I love those who are still waiting to come to the United States, wishing to get into this great country because they can’t afford shoes where they live, and because without shoes, a child can’t even get to school. I love people who are gay and who are the very ones who have shown me what true, pure, and enduring love really looks like.
I am grieving because the church graffiti condemned the Christians who are doing the real work of Christ— loving all people, purely and without judgement. These deep sorrows spur me into a religion of kindness which I sometimes have forgotten. In getting too busy with life, with making an “official” difference in the world, there are times I have not slowed down enough to find the ministry right around me, of small kindnesses in everyday life. This spiritual discipline resides in knowing no matter where we come from, what we look like, we must see how this could be us, how all of those “others” are people too. People who commute to work dropping their children at preschool, who come home at night and tidy up after dinner, who all lay their heads on pillows, and we share that simple breath that keeps us alive. At some point in our lives, we each have had such deep sorrow that we have been able to see this connection. Somehow that has to envelop you to see where kindness really lives— in the daily interruptions it shows its face in holy grace— this week I saw it in the man who needed a jump start in front of AutoZone, in a colleague who needed a hug, in the blessing of writing a hand written thank you note, in sitting with a friend in her darkest moments, in kissing sweet heads as they trot off to school. I have seen the things I could not schedule bring me closer to being centered myself. Each instance bringing me a bit of grace I didn’t expect, reminding me that kindness will turn this world right. I have faith that the rest will be revealed as I am ready to act on it.
There are many things I will probably engage in officially to be a part of healing the chasm between the people in our country, but this week I am just practicing kindness.