Deep Kindness

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Deep Kindness

When you think of the word, “kindness,” what first comes to mind? I think of the generosity of people throughout my life who’ve shown me thoughtfulness and compassion – sometimes even unwarranted. I know what it feels like to receive kindness, and less so, what it feels like to give it. This week, On Being’s Krista Tippet interviewed poet Naomi Shihab Nye. Naomi tells a story of being in Columbia on a three-month trip. Into the first week, she and her husband have everything taken from them, and yet a stranger shows them tender humanity with only a few words. Her poem, “Kindness” was written shortly afterwards. The sharing of the poem itself is deeply, kindly moving. Here are her words:

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 you 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 send you out into the day to gaze at 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.