The Endless Surprise of Kindnesses

For my exquisitely kind family and friends

Perhaps this is true of all poems–perhaps when you read a truly brilliant poem you realize that you didn’t truly get it before. Or, more likely, good poems are like life–they reveal more the more that you experience. After all, it was Freud who said, “Wherever I have been, a poet has been there before me.”

I’ve used this poem–“Kindness”– by Naomi Shihab Nye before, but I understand it so differently now. Perhaps it’s a gift of compassion to myself that, instead of feeling stupid and thinking, “How could I not really get it before?” I let myself experience it more fully. For I believe with all my heart that poetry gives you all that the human heart and psyche can truly give, and the more open you are, the more you can take it. Sometimes, when that openness comes from being broken apart, love and light have more room to enter.

The truth is, I didn’t know until recently what the first lines of this poem really meant: “Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.”  I had no idea what she was talking about. People who’ve lost loved ones surely did; not me. I do now.

But I also didn’t know what the poet meant by her closing lines:

“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.”

But I do now. I do now. Thank you to everyone who has been so kind to me in the past few weeks.

Below is the full poem. With a heart full of gratitude.


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 everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye

5 Comments

Filed under gratitude, poetry

5 responses to “The Endless Surprise of Kindnesses

  1. Lauren

    “only kindness that ties your shoes
    and sends you out into the day…”

    I love that.

  2. Ann

    Love, love, love this poem, Leslie. Know that if you are receiving many kindnesses, surely in part it is because of the many kindnesses you have shown in your life to others. I know that I appreciated your faithful support when my brother died unexpectedly and reading this poem means so much to me in that context.
    Please continue to confidently shine your bright light. Many blessings.

  3. Thinking of you…not sure of the context of your loss but know that I am always here for you.
    Love Lana

  4. MaryAnne

    You are a blessing to all who know and love you.

  5. Thank you for sharing this poem. May your heart heal well.

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