Sunday, September 24, 2017

"Kindness" 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 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 every where
like a shadow or a friend.

*As noted in the prayerbook Mishkan HaLev: Machzor for the Days of Awe, published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 2015. It is part of High Holiday services at at Congregation Beth Am, Los Altos Hills, California. The poet Naomi Shihab Nye wrote "Kindness," during her sojourn in Columbia.  It inspired me to gather these photos from rural Haiti as illustrations.

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