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.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.
I wasn't going to post a Tuesday Poem today because yesterday I was in Manchester and felt too tired to do anything when I got back last night. I fell into bed without realising the terrible events that were unfolding in the city I'd just left. Today I feel unbearably sad, not just because of what has happened, but also because of what some people are going to use the tragedy for. The images of grieving parents and injured children will spark a wave of anger and hatred directed towards innocent people who just happen to share a religion or a place of origin with the perpetrators. Hate has somehow become acceptable.
Visiting Europe so often, I see images in a media less squeamish than ours about showing unedited news items. Pictures of dead and mutilated children - parents carrying their bloodied offspring to hospitals that have also been bombed. It's difficult to avoid knowing what is happening in the Middle East. Perhaps this 'shielding' is what is preventing people here from understanding the direct link between events there and terrorism here. We have to think about why this is happening - not talk uselessly of 'radicalisation'. The most radicalising thing of all is to see your families, your compatriots, your friends, being blown up by bombs, missiles and drones that have a 'Made in Britain' or 'Made in the USA' label on them. The Middle Eastern countries, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, are being destroyed by weapons made by us in the west and sold to states who are not scrupulous about using them or selling them on to terrorist organisations. Hundreds of thousands of child refugees face starvation, deprivation, drowning and statelessness to escape the carnage. We have given them a cold shoulder rather than the support they deserve.
I am too sad to cry about the mess we have created or the suffering of the people involved. The feelings are like a physical pain. And I look at our so-called 'leaders' and despair. The landscape is indeed desolate 'between the regions of kindness'.
Naomi Shihab Nye 's father is a Palestinian refugee, her mother American. She is an award-winning poet and author currently living in the USA. "Her poems are based on heritage and peace and are connected to her experience as an Arab-American. Her work has been acknowledged by many journals and reviews throughout the world. In 2009, she was elected as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets."
Many thanks to my Facebook friends for sharing this poem.