I read this poem just about a month ago via Tim Ferriss’s blog. Honestly at the time I read through it and thought, eh I don’t get it so much not really my cup of tea. I was a little confused considering how it seemed to have such an impact on him. Well a month has gone by and emotionally I’ve been through the ringer and experienced a gamut of feelings and breakdowns that are all new to me. I just happened to come across the poem again yesterday and this time it floored me. So, I don’t know whether to be thankful to understand it’s meaning or sad that I now understand. Regardless, I now find it amazing and profound.
written by Palestinian-American Naomi Shihab Nye from her short collection, Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (A Far Corner Book)
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
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 every where
like a shadow or a friend.
The picture above was taken on 6/16/2010 while flying into the Detroit airport where I then spent the night in order to spend an hour with my father who was also flying through on a layover. To say I was in a different state when I took the photo would be the understatement of the century … shit, after the past 3 months I don’t even feel like the same person.
The strongest line for me in the poem is “feel the future dissolve in a moment”. I swear I recently thought I knew a part of my future and it looked just like a dream. Then in a moment it was gone. Just like that, there’s no way that specific vision will come true now. At this moment try as hard as I might I’m sad, even if it was just a dream in my head that was never going to come true. Maybe loosing my conjured dream is the hardest part of it all.
To add irony to it all a few months ago I came across an amazing quote by Dr. Seuss that says, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” … well, in the midst of hysterical breakdown a few days ago that was quoted back to me. I know eventually I will but at this time that seems very far in the distance. At this time, for the first time ever being in public doesn’t even stop me from crying. Totally not fun … but probably the most humbling experience I’ve ever had.
To be in such a place and experience kindness I truly view it in a different way now. For the kindness, warmth and love I received over the past few days from family, from old friends, from brand new friends, from acquaintances and from strangers … I am grateful.