Words fail and yet I feel compelled to write today, December 30, 2022. In the past month, people I care about and in some instances know and love well have been inflicted by some serious sadnesses: cruel behavior amidst divorce; deepening depression; escalating anxiety; failing aging parents; chronic pain; the accidental death of a healthy spouse. And of course, always there are the background sadnesses related to serious illness in children.
I learned another piece of unanticipated sad news this morning which tipped me over. I felt the shift inside of me. While these sadnesses are not mine personally, I am suddenly overwhelmed by them. I have gone from feeling like I can quietly hold all of this with and alongside others to feeling that I might drown in sadness as the year comes to a close.
This morning first thing while walking the dog, before learning the most recent sad news, I listened to a podcast with Kate Bowler in which she says, about her podcast Everything Happens: “If I get to be reabsorbed into other people’s stories and problems, I feel physically better. I feel more at peace. I feel more connected with the world, even if it’s really sad. I just like to know it’s not just me alone with my problems. I’m back on Team Humanity and that’s where I want to be. . . I don’t want to feel alone. I want to be one of many.” Usually this would feel true for me too. But not today. Today I feel so sorry for Team Humanity where bad things happen to good people. People are just so darn beautiful. If only their hearts could be enveloped in bubble wrap.
What can I do? One decent thing at a time, I guess. I took my daughter out for lunch and shopping because that’s simple and fun (and she is in search for a dress and the sales are good). I wrote a heartfelt condolence letter. I sat with our dog and rubbed her belly. I listened to a loved one cry on the phone. After I write this, I’m going to read a gentle little book in front of the Christmas lights before we take them down next week. And over the next few days, I’m going to reflect on all the beautiful, happy things that happened this year both in my own life and at Courageous Parents Network. There were a lot, and they share one thing in common: Kindness. I have come to understand Kindness as Love-in-Action — showing up for our fellow humans and showing them that they are not alone.
Earlier this week, a dear friend sent me the poem Kindness by Naomi Shihab that I have loved since first discovering it, but hadn’t read in a while. (That’s what friends do: they unwittingly send you the right thing at the right time.) This gem seems to succeed where words otherwise fail.
Thank you for being part of the Courageous Parents Network community. My wish for you is that the year ahead features many acts of kindness – both those you deliver and those you receive.
Kindness 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.