Even as we enter the ‘festive season’, and many of us are thinking about how best we can bring a smile to the faces of friends and family in the coming days, we have, in the space of one weekend, been faced with unimaginable horrors. The tragedy that has unfolded in Newtown, Connecticut – the mayhem, grief and loss, the courage – written by the actions of one disturbed young man with access to a family arsenal of weapons, has caused many of us to hug those we love just a little tighter in the last 72 hours.
This week at our ‘Reading Still Matters’ group, Chris Banks (herself a talented poet), suggested we read the poem ‘Kindness’ by Naomi Shihab Nye. It was her Christmas gift to us and I love it. Inspired by events happening when Naomi and her husband were on honeymoon in Colombia – they were robbed of everything they possessed on a bus in the middle of the night; a fellow passenger killed and left by the side of the road – it is a poem about loss and grief; desolate, but with a hopeful ending.
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
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
The families affected by the shootings in Connecticut have literally felt the future ‘dissolve in a moment’ and have lost what they literally held in their hand. Not even the support and love of neighbours and friends will mean very much when their grief is so raw.
So all I can say is that I read this poem and I thought of them. And I send them a little kindness, to go with them everywhere and help them tie their shoes.