The tender gravity of kindness

It has been my great fortune in life to have been surrounded by kindness.

I have known and recognized it in both simple and profound ways — a handwritten card, a perfect peach, a well-timed phone call, a thorough hug.

I know the type of kindness that changes your posture, when someone unexpectedly compliments you and so you stand a little taller because the weight of self-doubt you carry in your shoulders dissolves for a good long while.

I know the type of kindness that changes your face, when a gesture makes you smile and your worry lines stretch upward as you share a hearty laugh.

I know the type of kindness that changes the course of your day, when your focus shifts from your “to-do” list to your “gratitude” list and you know that, because of the latter, the former will be no problem at all.

I also know the type of kindness that makes your eyes water and your heart swell, the kind that follows a profound loss and allows you to see so clearly that life still has value and joy.

That’s the type of kindness I believe Naomi Shihab Nye describes in her poignant poem, “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.

We can’t control much in this old world and few people escape without experiencing days when their “future dissolves in a moment like salt in weakened broth.” Thankfully, though, we all have access to a regenerating store of kindness.

Leo Tolstoy wrote that “The kinder and the more thoughtful a person is, the more kindness he can find in other people.”

Today and every day, I wish you all a world of kindness and I hope we pass it on.

I wish for you all a world of kindness, today and every day.

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