Naomi Shihab Nye: Kindness

In which Carrie reflects on loss and what matters while taking meaning and comfort from a Naomi Shihab Nye poem called…


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in 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 the 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.


3 responses to “Naomi Shihab Nye: Kindness

  • S

    Quite similar to thoughts I’ve had regarding grief.

  • philosopheriturist

    Thanks for looking at this poem. Here is a wonderful video of Nye reading another one, which I think might be fun for you:

    Do you remember being a kid…maybe in P.E. class when someone (teacher) brought a big parachute thing? The object of the game was to sit in a circle around this big mass of cloth, and talk about the rules of how this would go. Then, you were instructed to stand up with your 25 cohorts and grab, with both hands firmly, edges of the cloth. Then…and here was the dramatic moment…you would utilize principles so beyond your fifth grade mind, like gravity, and airfoils, and community learning, and lift…on the count of three…your portion of the fabric.

    It would billow, high into the biosphere your combined energy…like grief or joy or fiction or connection…and then all of the kids would bring it down and hide under it, giggling.

    Some meaning was meant by that activity. I’m sure.

  • chitchatkat

    Thank you Carrie. I loved this poem and what to share it too.

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