It Is Only Kindness That Makes Sense Anymore



A year ago, I posted the poem Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye in response to a mass shooting in Las Vegas where 58 people were killed and 489 more were wounded. Since then, there have been nearly as many mass shootings as there have been days on the calendar.

Today, a little over a year after the Las Vegas massacre, I’m again drawn to this poem as I try to make sense of another mass shooting - one that killed 11 congregants in a Pittsburg synagogue.

In these overheated political moments where the rhetoric becomes incendiary, it is important to remember that if we fight fire with fire, we’ll all be consumed by the flames. Fire must instead be met by water, by waves that take the form of kindness and compassion and empathy. This is how we’ll be able to dial back the passions that are tearing us apart. To do otherwise will only turn up the heat and create a world that is uninhabitable.

What I wrote in my original post on October 3, 2017, remains true today on October 30, 2018:

Once again, our country struggles to make sense of a mass shooting. Once again, I fight against a sense of hopelessness and wonder if there's anything I can do -  anything that people like me who don't wield enormous influence or wealth can do - to help bring about meaningful change. And once again, I'm reminded of this poem, written by Naomi Shihab Nye, in 1952. 


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 gaze at 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.

Susan Kaiser Greenland