When I was working in New York City (so long ago), I stood at the window beside my desk while I talked on the phone. A young woman walked down the street, and she caught my eye (amongst many other people walking down the same street) because she looked so confident and because she was wearing a kick-ass pair of boots. As I watched her, a car that had been sitting innocuously at the curb suddenly revved into life, jumped the curb and backed up at such a velocity that it smashed her into the front wall of a building, killing her (I hope) immediately. One moment she was walking, holding an armful of books, and then next she was gone.
I felt rung like a bell, vibrating and empty. I (along with many people) called 911. The street filled with people and sirens. I walked away into the big empty space that I often taught or met with clients in, into the darkness, to process the monumental discovery of the inherent fragility of human life. The threshold between growth and breath and laughter and infinite silence is so slender. Just one moment to cross it.
Today in Connecticut, a young man took the lives twenty small children and six adults. There is no way to make sense of this. And while it feels like an isolated incident to us, it is not. All over the world, children are senselessly killed, mothers mourned and mourning, people damaged. The threshold is narrow, and there are those that do not hold that all life is sacred, important, worthy. I think of the web of a life, one thread cut and the whole thing sags. I think of the pain of loss. The pain of unfulfilled promise that follows every death, but especially the death of a child.
There is nothing more to say. No soapbox to stand on. Just wonder at the space between laughter and silence. Let us all remember to be kinder than required.
Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye (from The Words Under the Words)
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
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.