Friday, May 7
“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”
Several years ago, in early March, a friend emailed me some lines from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness.” She connects kinship and love with other things 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.
I learned to love this poem long before Covid-19 appeared and began to demand our attention, distracting us from other matters of deep meaning. This Friday the soft slope of the almost-valley morning palate of pale to deeper green leaves on our mix of oak, maple, crab apple and a dogwood or two fresh with mid-morning sun that wants to show off what two weeks of spring rains can do to our imaginations and spirits. We are not quite in picnic weather yet but spring is making promises for us; a contemplative morning.
Have a blest weekend,
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
Postscript: Yesterday morning, my daughter Mary Tobacco told me that she and some fellow School faculty & staff noticed the signs — ashamed embarrassment & physical dis-comfort. So they set up what might be called a “head-lice clinic” checking each child, then bathing each one, paying close attention to their scalps for the vermin that affects kids and adults alike who live without fresh running water. Besides soap, they work medicine into the scalps to begin a deep-cleansing and fine-tooth combs both to drive out the bugs and prepare each kid’s scalp with medicine to start healing lice damage. After their showers the team looks for clean clothing that fits each child’s size — yesterday, seeing the discomfort of a 6 year old whose shoes were too small for her feet, staff found a pair that fit. Mary Tobacco described her joy as she watched that 6 year old skipping and laughing, as she ran around the play ground: “how to care for children locked in the shame of deep poverty? Begin by noticing signs of shame and the physical pain that goes with it; then treat each child with respect; have the right tools at hand – – fine comb for lice, effective skin medicine, knowing how to welcome little people as you help them into clean skin and clean clothes; knowing how to hold that child, and to let her/him gaze into your eyes.
That’s how Mary T spent her day; one more day, after raising the money; she welcomed the well-drilling team to start work; MT estimates that the well will be working and water flowing by early next week.