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A friend emailed the poem Kindness just as the week began to go crazy, and it was only kindness that gave light and clarity to each situation that came my way. In that clear space of being rooted in its lucidity so too did its companions understanding and compassion help me break through my confusion and old patterns.

Wondering about what to write for the month of December with its roller-coaster energy of endings, celebration, and beginnings—along with the wildness and chaos of the past year on so many levels—a calm-voiced message came through: “Send this poem out.”

I am eternally grateful for Naomi Shihab Nye’s compassionate, wise words. This may be the fiftieth time I’ve read this poem—may it continue to carry us all toward kindness.


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, “Kindness” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Found on, where this poem is reprinted with the permission of the author.


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