Monday, May 18, 2009

Kindness: A Poem

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes

Here is a lovely poem that expresses so beautifully the connection between sorrow and genuine kindness. The kindest, deepest people I know have experienced their fair (or more) share of sorrows.

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


Delwyn said...


thank you for this wonderful poem. I am going to borrow it and savour it and share it with others,
thank you thank you

For gratitude:

I am thankful today for a strong and fit body
so that I can enjoy life...
and climb steps...
to look at flowers and trees and life...

Happy Days

Sarah Lulu said...

Ohh that is the most amazing poem. I'm going to print it out and carry it around for a while.

Thank you.

Alden said...

Dan, lovely poem. I have read that it is those that live the simplest lives who are often the most kind, friendly and hospitable to visitors.

They have nothing to give but themselves. Perhaps the richness of their kindness is born from their simple way of living.

Dan Gurney said...

Delwyn and Sarah Lulu--

I am glad (and not too surprised) that both or you enjoyed the poem. It's one that really spoke to me, too.

When I'm going through a difficult patch, it's helpful for me to remember that the sorrows and painful feelings will help me feel and connect with other people and show them some kindness. Having had feelings rubbed raw makes us better listeners, yes? Still, even with such consolations, tough times are still tough.

Dan Gurney said...

Alden, I've noticed the same thing. The generosity of those who have very little is enormous. I suppose that those who've acquired the most have done so at least in part by being good at keeping things to themselves.

It's probably mistaken to say that material and spiritual wealth are inversely proportional to one another—it smacks of oversimplification—but it's probably MORE mistaken to think that material and spiritual wealth are directly proportional.

Margaret Pangert said...

I feel the empathy pouring out of that poem; it gives me a mindful heart. Genuine kindness is something very different from "being nice." To have felt sorrow opens that window. Thanks, Dan. btw, I'm originally from Redding. Small world, isn't it?

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Margaret,

You're from Redding, where are you now?

Someone said that we're broken, like a vase with cracks and fractures all throughout. It's those cracks and fractures that let the light in.

Margaret Pangert said...

That's a beautiful, uplifting thought. Thank you. I love the name of your blog: A Mindful Heart. It's so important to try not to attach to something hurtful and yes, be mindful.
After a few years in France, I moved to New Jersey where I've been ensconced for some time now. My mother lives in the town of Cottonwood. It would be funny if you've heard of it! Your area is fabulous in every way!

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Margaret,

Yes, I am aware of Cottonwood between Red Bluff and Redding. I can remember hitchhiking through the region in 1972 and getting a laugh from the HWY 5 exit called Ball's Ferry. (I was a lot younger in those days!)

New Jersey. What part? Up towards NYC or down towards Philly?

Katherine said...

Perfect timing. I've just watched "the Motorcycle Diaries"... Thank you Dan. Just catching up on you older posts that I've missed.

Wisdom is a muscle that grows through the exercise of adversity.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Katherine,

Glad you stopped by. I enjoyed Motorcycle Diaries, too. Your art class sounds fantastic. To build you own kiln from clay and!

Rachel said...

This is so beautiful and important. Thank you for sharing it.

Jenny Stevning said...

I LOVE THIS POEM! I had a copy but lost it. I couldn't even remember the name of the poet. I googled "kindness poem" and your blog appeared. Thank you! Thank you! Now I am off to see your other posts.

Dan Gurney said...

Rachel, You're welcome! I love this poem.

Dan Gurney said...


Thanks for leaving a comment on it. It had been a while since I read it. It's one worth rereading!

Tam said...

No more backwards,
No more standing in place,
Poised for forward.
...and yes with even more kindness
sprinkled, poured & saturated unto a desert cactus rose.
Thank you so much for sharing! I too love this poem!!!

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Tam,

Thanks for writing this. I love revisiting this poem.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dan,

I came across your site in much need of some little piece of wisdom. As I read Naomi's poem, tears streamed down my face. Here was someone who understood that life crises' can open one's heart instead of closing it. So many people say - Love is the Answer - I believe KINDNESS is the answer. Imagine a world where kindness is the norm, and one does not have to grandstand, a simple smile can change someone's day.

Thanks for this forum. Namaste Nickie

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Nickie,

I'm glad you enjoyed the poem. It is very powerful. I think of kindness as a form or facet of love; perhaps its purest, warmest form. Kindness, along with Safety and Happiness are the three central values in "my world" of kindergarten.

Anonymous said...

very good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

it is beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

Anonymous said...

great poem!!!!!!

Dan Gurney said...

Anons--thank you. I love this poem, too.

Suzy said...

This poem is one I have printed and shared many times...and it continues to remind me of what I believe is the most important quality humanity has to share....once we have been through the valley..and know this truth. Thank you for sharing it with us..suzy

Dan Gurney said...


You're welcome! I kind of wish I wrote it!! It's one of those poems that really stays with you.

Thank you for leaving a comment.

Tom Ellis said...

I am a grief therapist in St. Paul, MN and direct a non profit focusing on complicated grief and traumatic loss. A client recently brought this poem to share during a session. I was very impacted by the depth, understanding and awareness about the need to embrace our sorrows, and begin to live again.
Thanks for your blog!

Judy Scholl said...

Dan, I recently lost two of my four children, one to an accident and one to an overdose. I have expreineced such a wide range of feelings but I had a very hard time expressing it. this poem, this cloth of kindness, it lifts me up in a way nothing else has
How kind you must be to share this, and I wonder what you lost that enabled you to be so kind

Dan Gurney said...

Dear Judy,

I am very glad that this poem has offered some comfort to you in your losses. All of us lose a great deal in life, of course, even our own lives in the end. Like everyone else, I have suffered losses in life, but I do bear in mind my many blessings and joys as well as the awareness that losses come to all of us. These three: 1. to know loss is shared widely universally, 2. to recall our blessings and 3. to enjoy the miracles and joys of life just as it is; these three things help me find my way.