Thursday, January 21, 2010

On Kindness

When I was decorating my bodywork room I made this strange deal with myself to buy everything I could off of Craigslist. It was great fun scanning through the items, locating the perfect thing and then making arrangements to check it out and if all went well, purchasing it. I met all sorts of people. The experience was great fun and very interesting. What struck me about the different people I met was that almost without exception, the older people took more time with the transaction, chatted on a personal level and seemed more interested in me as a person than the younger folks did. One young person, who was on her way to Europe and thus, had no need for the good looking toaster I was about to purchase, went on talking to her friends, completely ignoring me while I stood there waiting to see the appliance. (I didn't limit my Craigslist purchases to bodywork room items.) Contrast that with with a woman who was probably in her late 30's who sold me some flannel massage sheets and then invited me and a friend to sit on her porch in order to enjoy watching a bird's nest full of baby birds.

My experience during the Craiglist buying spree was that the older people acted in a more kindly manner than the younger ones I met. That is quite a generalization, I know, but it was what I experienced. When wondering about the why of this I came up with a theory. I think that there can be a certain kindness that we aquire with age due to an accumulation of experiences, especially heartbreaking ones. The older we are, the more loss we experience and the more we understand the vulnerability of the human experience. This allows us to connect more fully with other people around us.

Of course, suffering causes some people to close themselves off, to behave bitterly toward others, but that is a topic for another post.

During the meditation retreat that I attended recently, a poem was read that resonated with me. I ran across the poem today and am reprinting it here for you. As always, wishing you balance.


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 every where
like a shadow or a friend.
By Naomi Shihab Nye


  1. Wonderful poem.
    From empathy comes kindness. Experience gives us opportunities to develop empathy and thus, kindness.

  2. Larew- I just love that poem. It makes me cry, but it makes me happy to know that all that suffering can be transformed into something good.


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