march 23 – “Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things,” Naomi Shihab Nye

Friday March 23, 2018
“Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,”

Last year in early March, a friend emailed me some lines from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness.”  She  connects kinship and love with other elements of living that can wear us down.  In her poem, meanness and violence become a context for enduring kindness.  No wonder my friend thought to send “Kindness” in these times.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Still nippy here (20 degrees and sunny; the weekend dawns on us.  Our sister university, Loyola of Chicago has scrambled into the elite 8 after a show-stopper finish and their 98 year old chaplain Sr. Jean).

Have a blest weekend.

john sj


Today’s Post  “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

(b. March 12, 1952)

post script: In another sister school  Loyola High School on 5 Mile in Detroit, Ann Riley has mentored these boys for many years and sent this picture.  (N.b.,  “Our guys” would be the boys carrying this homeless man to his funeral.  Posting the picture on Facebook gave him a name and connected him with his daughter.  Her post makes a footnote to Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness.”)

Ann Riley explained in her post.  “Six of our guys volunteered to be pall bearers for a homeless man that St. Clare of Montefalco held a funeral service for.  We posted a picture of our guys on Loyola’s Facebook, and this is one of the responses we got.”

Marlita N. Chapman I am the Daughter of Henry Stanton…. and because of this Picture being posted on Social Media & by Patrick Harbin Jr my family was able to discover the loss of our loved one, who had been missing for quite some time…. on behalf of my brothers, myself and the rest of my family. We would like to say “Thank you” and extend our deepest gratitude to the young men of Loyola High School…who served as pallbearers, to St. Clare of Montefalco Parish and to Verheyden Funeral Home for providing a proper Burial Service. Although we are deeply devastated to discover the loss of our father this way… it gives us a little peace knowing he was laid to rest. Henry Stanton is Loved by his family and will be truly, truly missed. Please keep us in your prayers and thank you again to all who participated in his funeral services our hearts ache finding out a day too late. Daddy! Take care of Mom

This entry was posted in Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.