As I marched with the Women’s March on NYC this past weekend (well, really, it wasn’t so much a march as a very slow shuffle!), I was overwhelmed by how joyful the huge crowd was, and especially how kind everyone was. Maybe it was the effect of having a large concentration of mothers and grandmothers gathered together with all kinds of other folks, but it was the most helpful group of people I’ve ever witnessed in midtown Manhattan. And I don’t say that lightly — I often defend New Yorkers as much more kind and generous than our reputation would suggest! But the kindness reached a new peak, I think, this Saturday, as complete strangers helped separated group members reconnect, made way for hapless folks who were just trying to get to the drugstore, and became fast friends along the march route. Couldn’t we all do with a bit more kindness in our day-to-day lives? It reminded me that there is a connection between suffering and grief and kindness, and of a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that explores that connection:
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.
May we all become ever more aware of the kindness that goes with us everywhere as a shadow or a friend!