Poetry Sunday: Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

The website poets.org reported last week that this poem was the work most accessed on that website during 2018. It makes sense, I think. We are all searching for a little kindness these days.

Naomi Shihab Nye had a Palestinian father and an American mother. She was born in St. Louis but calls San Antonio her home.

Nye was inspired to write this poem while traveling through Colombia, a country whose natural beauty and richness is contrasted with its problems of social oppression, governmental corruption, drug trafficking, and violent crime. Within these contrasts, she found reason to believe in the power of kindness to change things. To change both the giver and receiver of the act.


by Naomi Shihab Nye
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.


  1. Let us pray that we all practice more kindness in the year to come!

    1. That would certainly be a resolution worth keeping.


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