It's been a rough week and my defenses are low. Sometimes a poem arrives just when you need it. One of my favorite poems and poets popped up this week.
First, the poem:
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 gaze at 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
And the interview (transcript and podcast): here.
There are so many gems in this interview. Here are a few nuggets:
Writing things down, whatever you’re writing down, even if you’re writing something sad or hard, usually you feel better after you do it. Somehow, you’re given a sense of, “OK, this mood, this sorrow I’m feeling, this trouble I’m in, I’ve given it shape. It’s got a shape on the page now. So I can stand back, I can look at it, I can think about it a little differently. What do I do now?” And very rarely do you hear anyone say they write things down and feel worse.
You could write a little and still gain something from it. You don’t have to be spending an hour and a half to three hours to five hours a day writing to have a meaningful experience with it. It’s a very immediate experience. You can sit down and write three sentences. How long does that take? Three minutes. Five minutes. And you're giving yourself a very rare gift of listening to yourself.
And so I would get in a little trouble, and my mother would say to me — her charge to me — “Be your best self.” And I would think, “Wow, what is that self? Where is it? Where is it tucked away? Where do I keep it when I’m not being it? And are you your best self? Is my teacher her best self?”
That was just something intriguing to me that we had more than one self that we could operate out of. And I think one nice thing about writing is that you get to encounter, you get to meet these other selves, which continue on in you: your child self, your older self, your confused self, your self that makes a lot of mistakes. And then find some gracious way to have a community in there inside that would help you survive.
It's Thankful Thursday and I'm filled with gratitude for poems that move me to my soft self, my best self.
And you — what are you thankful for today?