Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Before You Know Kindness

One thing I have always loved about my husband, Michael, is his appreciation of beautiful poetry. We began exchanging poems literally within hours of meeting each other, and in that first year there was a flurry of Rilke and Rumi and Hafiz and cummings.

We have been together for almost 7 years, and we send fewer poems now, but occasionally I find one in my inbox, or I send one to him. As I was sorting through some old emails, I found this one, "Kindness" by
Naomi Shihab Nye. Michael sent it to me over a year ago. As I read it now, it resonates with me in a way it couldn't have back then.


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.

I have to say, even having known sorrow, I am still so forgetful of kindness at times! I still grasp after my own comfort and security. At times I find myself angry. And then, something startles me awake, and I have to laugh. Security? This is all so fleeting. Anger? Ah, yes, sometimes I suffer that way. Sometimes I forget that I always have the choice to soften my heart.

Thich Naht Hanh recommends a meditation when you are angry with someone you love:

I close my eyes and look deeply.
Three hundred years from now

Where will you be and where shall I be?

How wonderful, you are still alive!
I am so happy!

How could I be angry with you?

Both of us have to die someday
and while we are still alive and together
it is foolish to be angry at each other.

May kindness go with us everywhere, like a shadow or a friend.


janis said...

That is a great poem, Jessie!
And I really love the works of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Laura said...

What a touching and true poem! Thanks for sharing that Jessie.

Your comfort is in my thoughts.

amee said...

That's beautiful. Thank you.

gretchen said...

I cant describe very well what just overcame me while catching up on your blog. It has been a long time since I have been on and I did ALOT of reading! The tears came pouring out and would not stop. Your process and posting it here has taught me so much about love and loss and marriage, things I never even began to think until I met you. I cry for you and the constant grief you must silently feel as you move through your day, I want so many times to randomly hug you as we pass in the hall. I am also rejoicing for you in all you have experienced since Sage passed. I learn from you and am in awe of your lessons you teach me when I read your thoughts and I am ever so grateful to know you. My heart is with you and I truly thank you.

Anonymous said...

Jessie (and Janis),

Get some sleep! :) It should only be us nurses (and the like) that stay awake all night.

Again, thank you so much for your friendship and being the person that you are, we are all blessed by you. Call whenever you'd like we would love to hear your voice again.


Kristin said...

Thank you, Jessie, for the kindness you offer in connection and transparency -- for giving your heart and your story in your own words as well as those of other poets. Every time I come to your blog, I sit with tears streaming down, and there is little distinction for me between sadness and celebration of life.

Such beauty in the desert. Bittersweet.

I trust your authenticity completely. I trust you to know landscape of your heart. This is a knowing I value dearly.