If you sit down at set of sun And count the acts that you have done, And, counting, find One self-denying deed, one word That eased the heart of him who heard, One glance most kind That fell like sunshine where it went — Then you may count that day well spent.
But if, through all the livelong day, You’ve cheered no heart, by yea or nay — If, through it all You’ve nothing done that you can trace That brought the sunshine to one face — No act most small That helped some soul and nothing cost — Then count that day as worse than lost. ~George Eliot “Count That Day Lost”
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.
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. ~Naomi Shihab Nye from “Kindness”
I tend to forget – in my own self-absorption – the privilege I have to help make the world a better place for someone else each day — to share a drop of sunshine in some way. Each morning I’m given another chance to treat the day like the gift that it is and hand it off to someone else in a continual “pay it forward” act of kindness.
Only kindness makes sense in this fallen world. We have been steeped in sorrow for so long. I don’t want to lose one more day to anything less than a depth of kindness and comfort that never leaves my side, still present as the sun goes down into darkness.
Only such Loving Kindness will raise the sun again in the morning.
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Every few minutes, he wants to march the trail of flattened rye grass back to the house of muttering hens. He too could make a bed in hay. Yesterday the egg so fresh it felt hot in his hand and he pressed it to his ear while the other children laughed and ran with a ball, leaving him, so little yet, too forgetful in games, ready to cry if the ball brushed him, riveted to the secret of birds caught up inside his fist, not ready to give it over to the refrigerator or the rest of the day. ~Naomi Shibab Nye “Boy and Egg” from Fuel
Gathering eggs on my childhood farm was a source of wonder and terror: the pleasure and challenge of reaching under a downy breast to wrap my fingers around such smooth warm wholeness.
Daily I fought my fear of a hen muttering under her breath, staring warily at me, her beak at the ready, ready to defend what was rightfully hers and not mine.
It was a game of chicken in the truest sense, a stand-off between a four year old girl and two year old hen: we locked onto each other’s eyes while I bravely grabbed the egg and she pecked at my hand. I would never let go of her egg or her eyes and, as part of the daily game, she allowed me to have both.
Like the game of chicken I watch my dogs play daily now, their eyes locked in mutual respect, intimidation and affection. They need one another for this game of love: give and take, take and give.
A new book from Barnstorming and poet Lois Edstrom now available for order here:
The river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse. The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek. The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do. ~Naomi Shihab Nye “Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems
Here’s the truth of it: no one really wants to be famous but seeks a life of meaning and purpose rather than one empty of significance.
The button alone is pure window-dressing, a flash in the pan, a bauble ready to loosen and fall off, easy to go missing.
A button hole by itself without a button to latch around is plain and gaping and lonely and allows in drafts, blending into the background, silently waiting for its moment of usefulness.
We cannot forget who we’re meant to be and what we’re meant to do – we fit the task for which we’re made.
Send me a button and I’ll make sure it is secured.
If this comes creased and creased again and soiled as if I’d opened it a thousand times to see if what I’d written here was right, it’s all because I looked too long for you to put in your pocket. Midnight says the little gifts of loneliness come wrapped by nervous fingers. What I wanted this to say was that I want to be so close that when you find it, it is warm from me. ~Ted Kooser “Pocket Poem”
A boy told me if he roller-skated fast enough his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him, the best reason I ever heard for trying to be a champion.
A victory! To leave your loneliness panting behind you on some street corner while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas, pink petals that have never felt loneliness, no matter how slowly they fell. ~Naomi Shihab Nye from “The Rider”
One who has loved is never quite alone, though all the hills declare our solitude. Having known you, I am no more afraid, the essential singleness of blood and bone when dispossessed, comes never in return; one who has loved is never quite alone. ~Jane Tyson Clement from The Heart’s Necessities
Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time. — Naomi Shihab Nye
We have had three weeks of delightfully temperate weather — days in the 70’s, nights cooling to the 50’s, gentle breezes which at times gust and shake the foliage and fruit from branches.
It feels a bit like autumn in July, with leaves loosening from tree branches, tumbling to the ground two months early. Our annual July family gathering is coming up soon, but without an older generation of birthdays to celebrate as in previous years: the last of our family elders passed on two months ago. The inevitable shifting and sifting of generations is keenly felt; we middle aged folk now bounce grandchildren on our laps rather than our own children. The last fifteen years have changed much in our family tree.
I feel badly for the trees parting with their leaves too soon. I am sad our family has parted with our elders before we’re ready.
I am no longer invulnerable, seemingly protected by a veneer of youth and vigor. Located high in the canopy of branches, I may wave bravely in the breezes, dew glistening like sweat on my skin, feeling the sun on my back and the raindrops running off my leafy shoulders. Yet my grip is loosening, slowly, surely. My color is subtly fading. My edges are starting to fray, and there may be a hole rent here or there. Yes, I am feeling more and more leaf-like, knowing how far I could fall any time.
That knowledge makes all the difference. I hang on ever more tightly while I can.
I’ll tell you a secret: poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes, they are sleeping. They are the shadows drifting across our ceilings the moment before we wake up. What we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them. — Naomi Shihab Nye
Poems were hidden from me for decades. I was oblivious a hundred times a day to their secrets: dripping right over me in the shower, rising over hills bright pink, tucked under a toadstool, breathing deeply as I auscultated a chest, unfolding with each blossom, settling heavily on my eyelids at night.
The day I awoke to them was the day thousands of innocents died in sudden cataclysm of airplanes and buildings and fire — people not knowing when they got up that day it would be their last. And such taking of life happens again and again; our world weeps.
Suddenly poems show themselves. I begin to see, listen, touch, smell, taste as if each day would be my last.
I have learned to live in a way that lets me see through the hiddenness and now it overwhelms me. Poems are everywhere when I look.
And I don’t know if I have enough time left to write them all down.
or the rest of the day. ~Naomi Shibab Nye “Boy and Egg”
Gathering eggs on my childhood farm
was a source of wonder and terror:
the amazing pleasure of reaching under a downy breast
to wrap my fingers around a smooth warm wholeness;
overcoming the fear of a hen muttering under her breath
and defending what is rightfully hers
and not mine.
It was a game of chicken
in the truest sense,
a stand-off between four year old farmgirl
and two year old hen.
We locked each other’s eyes
while I held the egg,
and I will never let go,
Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time.” — Naomi Shihab Nye
Yesterday was an atypical summer day: cool wind gusts and intermittent rain showers, challenging our outdoor picnic family gathering. It felt like autumn in July, with leaves loosening from tree branches, tumbling to the ground two months early. The gathering was in honor of the upcoming birthday of a beloved uncle, the sole survivor of five siblings, with two lost just in the last six months. The inevitable shifting and sifting of generations is keenly felt; the middle aged folk, of which I’m a part, now bounce grandchildren on their laps rather than their own children. The last ten years have changed much in the family tree.
I feel badly for the trees parting with their leaves prematurely. I am sad our family is parting with our elders before we’re ready.
I am no longer invulnerable, protected by a veneer of youth and vigor. Located high in the canopy of branches, I may wave bravely in the breezes, dew glistening like sweat on my skin, feeling the sun on my back and the raindrops running off my leafy shoulders. Yet my grip is loosening, slowly, surely. My color is subtly fading. My edges are starting to fray, and there may be a hole rent here or there. Yes, I am feeling more and more leaf-like, knowing how far I could fall any time.
That knowledge makes all the difference. I hang on even more tightly while I can.