“Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things…” Naomi Shihab Nye
These days of quarantine remind us of our need for human connection and kindness. I believe that kindness (and acceptance without judgment) reconnects us with our innate humanity and our need for meaningful human connection.
Naomi Shihab Nye offers such a unique perspective in her brilliant poem Kindness, from her book of poetry, Words Under the Words. Kindness, according to Nye, spawns from our own times of travail, when we needed and received the kindness of strangers.
A Tale of Kindness
I once heard the poet interviewed by Krista Tippett on Krista’s podcast, On Being, in which Naomi described a personal experience that made her consider the nature of kindness. (Note the following is from memory so exact details may be incorrect, but the bulk of the story is factual.)
It seems that Naomi and her husband were taking honeymoon traveling the more rural areas of Columbia. In route to a certain city, the bus they were riding on, along with locals and chickens, broke down. They were robbed of all luggage, including passports and money. All they possessed was the clothes they were wearing and the little money they were carrying in their pockets. Stuck in a Developing World foreign country they lost everything they needed to survive.
Surviving on the Kindness of Others
And yet survive they did… based on the kindness of others. Shihab Nye writes in her poem…
“Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things… / What you held in your hand, / and what you counted and carefully saved, / all this must go so you know / how desolate the landscape can be / between the regions of kindness.”
Later in the poem she adds…”Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, / you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”
Our Antidote to Loss
Is that not where we are today in quarantine? We have lost the touch of intimate relationships and friends we so dearly love. We have lost jobs and finances. And embedded in this lostness we find ourselves in the most uncertain times any of us have ever faced. We know not how long the virus will last, how long we will be in quarantine, or when life will normalize even to the most minor extent.
Yes, there exists a sense of sorrow… for those that have contracted the virus, for the first responders, for the insufficient supplies needed in the trenches as well as in our homes. These times of “losing things and sorrow” describe our nation and our world today. So according to poet the resolution can be found in intentional acts of kindness.
Kindness: Our Go-To
Kindness, first of all, in our own homes in quarantine, kindness to strangers we pass at a safe distance while walking the neighborhood, and kindness to others while waiting in grocery lines. How about kindness in a Facebook posts? Finally, how about kindness to ourselves during these times of “losing things.”
Kindness has become my “go-to” action word these days. You never know how much your act of kindness can encourage a fellow experiencing the same (or worse) than you.
Why don’t we all give it a try!
When You, Friends, and Strangers Lose Things
Respond with Kindness
Photo courtesy of AaronAmat at istockphoto