When I think of kindness, I think of the poem “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye. I can’t remember when I first read it, but it really spoke to me. In it she talks about how to “know kindness… you must know sorrow“. She describes ways people may suffer and how that can lead to such a darkness and hopelessness. Then she says that, through having been to that place, we all can be kind because we know so well what an absence of kindness can look like (“how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness“). That having been there, we almost have no choice but to be kind because the alternative is too horrible to consider, too painful to us even if we are not the one in that place.
I liked the poem so much that I printed it out, folded it up, and put it in my purse. I carry it with me when I go out and it feels like both a tether and a reminder of what I can hope for, even in moments when I feel at my lowest. It makes me feel connected to other people and hopeful. You could say that I carry the poem with me “like a shadow or a friend“.
I can remember being on the bus at university. I had just had a horrible meeting – or rather, a meeting that left me feeling horrible. Often the meetings were meant to be supportive but the whole situation was so difficult and I felt so alone that I would leave feeling awful. I remember thinking there were not enough private places to go to cry on the university site. Yet I couldn’t control my tears or hold in the sorrow that consumed me. I walked to the bus stop, just wanting to get home and curl myself up and hide from the world and everything that felt so painful.
When the bus came, I got out my money to pay for my ticket. I was lucky – as a student, I could buy a one pound ticket that let me go all over the city for a day. So it should have been simple to hand over a pound coin and get back a thin, ghost-like paper ticket. Tears were still falling from my face, and I pulled out a pound from my purse and handed it over but managed to spill some other coins at the same time. That was it: they were gone to me. What use or need did I have for that when what I was was so awful? Inside I felt a sinking that seemed like it would go on forever. I was rushed away in the tide of that cold darkness and I wasn’t really on that bus any more. I was embarrassed to be crying like this in public and I didn’t care, couldn’t care about those coins. I just wanted to get home, so I tore off my ticket and sat down.
And a gentleman on that bus saw what had happened. He saw me, crying and feeling empty and scared and sad, and he saw the two silver coins glinting on the floor. And he picked them up with gentle hands and said, “These are yours.”
I had already given up on them; the twenty pence or whatever they were worth meant nothing against my own worthlessness. But that kind man saw them and, more importantly, saw me, and his actions said to me that, even feeling at my worst, I was still a person and it was okay for me to be there and to not just give up on things that I lost.
This was written at my creative writing group where the prompt was the word “kindness”. The poem I am talking about is Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye. Do give it a read – it expresses so beautifully the importance of kindness, how vital it is.
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash