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The On Being Project


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.

This poem is excerpted with permission from Naomi Shihab Nye’s collection of poetry, Words Under Words: Selected Poems. For more poetry, visit our Poetry Radio Project.

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