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 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 Shibab Nye (1952) is an Arab American poet and author of many books of poetry as well as children's books. This poem "Kindness" (1995) can be found in her book "From Words Under Words: Selected Poems." I have read this book and seen this poem before but had not remembered it until I received it in an email today from an online poetry forum that I follow. This poem says much of what I feel and believe; that kindness is critical to a healthy world and a healthy self. That most of us seem to need to know loss, real loss before we really can appreciate the value of kindness. Suffering is of course not our goal, we seek wellness, but we all will suffer in this life and if we are open to this experience it can help develop empathy in us. From genuine experienced need and empathy we ourselves can develop greater empathy and from empathy comes kindness and from kindness reduced suffering. This is a quality I seek in all leaders at any level or in any place (including governors and presidents!). I am well aware that this proposition requires a full dissertation to elaborate, but I'll hope the poem is a source of inspiration or at least curiosity to further reflect upon for everyone. It's a strong moral calling out for me to see each person, no matter their circumstances or history as having full and equal value and similar life needs as everyone else, including myself. To me this is a very important poem for today, April 3, 2020.