On this second day of Easter, 2019, I have been thinking of the poem, “Kindness” by Shihab Nye. It is longer than I normally quote in my journal, but it speaks to this season. The poem is not new. It was written in 1952. The back story is that Ms. Nye and her husband were on their honeymoon, traveling in South America. They were riding on a bus that was robbed. They lost everything. They had no money, no passports, nothing. Another rider on the bus was killed. A kind man came up the street and saw them and asked what happened. Through broken Spanish they tried to tell their story. He replied, “I’m very sorry. I’m very, very sorry that happened.” While her husband hitchhiked to a larger city to get their traveler’s checks replaced, she sat in the plaza of a small town and wrote this poem:

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.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Of course, I would not wish that kind of trauma on any other person. I myself have no experience equal to what happened to the poet and her husband. I have had some sad times. I have lost some things that seemed to me to be valuable. I’ve known grief. I’ve tasted fear. But I don’t know exactly what they experienced. That is often true when I work with people. I go to be with a family who has lost a child to suicide knowing that my children are alive and healthy. I bring to a widow the news of the death of her husband and I know that my wife and I have had many happy years and odds are that we will have many more. I know that others experience pain that is deeper than my own.

But I also know that there is truth to Shihab Nye’s poem: “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know the sorrow as the other deepest thing.”

Resurrection is our theological word for the experience that kindness and compassion lie deeper than pain and grief. There are some interpreters of Christianity who speak of resurrection as if it were resuscitation. A body, once dead, comes to life again. That is exactly the way some of Jesus’ disciples described what happened to Jesus and the experience they had with the resurrected Christ. But resuscitation is not the world story. Even Jesus’ closest friends did not recognize him after his resurrection. His presence was different. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t experienced his death. His death was all too real, too final, too complete.

There are others who speak of resurrection as immortality. But we are not immortal. We will not escape death. Death is a reality of life. I know that there are those who don’t mean no death when they speak of immortality. They know that people die. They speak of the continuity of personality and spirit continuing into a new form after death.

I am no expert on what happens after we die. It is another of those experiences I have not yet had. I have faith that “faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.” I have a conviction that “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But I do not know the nature of life after death.

What I do know is that this life offers experiences of the the death of those we love. Grief is a reality. Loss is part of life.

The account of the first experience of Jesus’ resurrection that appears in the Gospel of John is an account of Mary waking up with sorrow. She goes alone to the tomb, before it is light, before the others, before it is the right time to go to anoint the body. Her sorrow is evident even through all of the translations and all of the poetic language that the Gospel writer employed to make a polished story. The raw grief of the moment remains evident in the words of the Gospel to this day.

The process of Lent invites us to face our losses, sorrow and grief head-on. It does not shy away from tears. Not every one makes the investment of such risky behavior every year. It doesn’t feel good to experience the pain of loss and grief. We’ve become quite accomplished at avoiding it. But when we do find the courage and really spend time with sadness, the joy of Easter is a dramatic experience. It may not dawn suddenly, but rather seep into our spirt slowly. Life is stronger than death. Kindness is deeper than sorrow.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!