Sunday, March 13, 2011

Before You Know ...

I have been unable lately, to put words down, as I noted in my last post. In spending a quiet evening in tonight, I came across this stunning poem in the most recent edition of the Oprah magazine, to which I have a subscription, a most lovely birthday present from my dear friend A. This poem reminds me a bit of her.

As we age, and go around and around in that revolving door, each time spitting us out into some new reality, our shoes on the pavement, trying to steady ourselves, trying to adjust; to a grief, a loss, a sudden up-ending, a vicious disappointment; this seems to be the time when the most self-compassion is needed, where the most pure growth occurs. When we are forced to.

I mused to myself that if I had read this poem fifteen years ago, even with my university background in creative writing, I'm not sure it would have resonated to me the same way then. But reading it at home, in my safe, warm bedroom, my glasses on, the tilt of the lamplight, the quiet missing of someone gone too soon, I understood it perfectly.

Read, savour, read again, enjoy. And be kind.

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 everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

—Naomi Shihab Nye from Words Under Words: Selected Poems

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