I had zero planned for Sabbath Moment, and at wits end, until Emma Thompson read me a poem. Well, it may not have been just for me, but it sure felt like it.
She read Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye. One of those reminders that sometimes a person needs a story (or poem) more than food to stay alive.
And it made me remember this story from Naomi Shihab Nye…
Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.”
Well—one pauses these days.
Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there. An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”
I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”
We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought; This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies.
I wanted to hug all those other women, too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
(Thank you Naomi.)
Compassion can still happen when we give way to the “tender gravity of kindness.” Encounters with no stain of stingy or cruel or callous or shame. Yes. Because every one of us hurts and yearns, and longs to be seen and valued.
One of my favorite stories to tell at workshops is about a Special Olympics summer event held in Seattle. Nine contestants each with disabilities ready for the 100-yard dash. One could say that it’s not so much a dash really. More like a good paced saunter. The starting gun sounds off. One boy stumbles, falls at the start, scrapes his knee and begins to howl. No adult stepped in. The other eight have begun down the track. They all hear the wail. And they stop. Every one of them. And they turn to see. They all come back to the young man now sitting on the asphalt. They hug him and give him kisses. One says, here this will make it better. He stands. And they all link arms, all nine. And race the 100 yards together, crossing the finish line as one. Too good to be true? Well, as it turns out, it is. The other eight did not all come back.
(When I found out, it was tough to swallow. I’ve seen the story in many books.)
It is, however, real life. You know, not everyone comes back. Not everyone finds safety. (And, as storytellers, we don’t need to add fuel to a fire by misleading as a means of comfort.)
So, let’s be honest. There is real pain. There are real scraped knees. There are times when no one notices. There are times when we feel alone. And we look for hope. And I look to stories. Because here’s the deal: Even if they all didn’t come back, I will still tell the story. But I will tell it like it is. You see, eight did not come back, but two did.
Two. So yes. This can still happen. Not everything is lost. Someone did notice. Someone did come back.
Okay, let’s make this real. Maybe this week, I can be the one to notice. I can be one that comes back.
This week? I want to try kindness and mercy and being present.
Emma said (of the poem), “I will dedicate this to our collective future. To the people we are going to be, after this (speaking of the pandemic). We have to access what has been so abundant, which is kindness and we have to apply it to all our systems.”
RIP Chadwick Boseman. I loved the way you infused light into the dignity of kings.
On my walk early this morning, I tell the sheep I had nothing, and my anxiety was asking for attention. They listen patiently to me, with kindness. Maybe that was the omen I needed.
Quote for your week…
We’ve learned to fly the air like birds, we’ve learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we haven’t learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters. –Martin Luther King Jr.
Note: Naomi Shihab Nye, “Gate A-4” from Honeybee.
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–You are so welcome!! Thank you for all your wonderful articles and so many other blessings you share with love, hope, joy, and best of all, your stories of yourself and others! Blessings to you!! Irene
–Thank you! Good reminders for today. I needed to hear those words this morning. Glad to be in your flock! Just got the new journal. Love the look and feel. Look forward to diving in. JB
–THANK YOU (writ large). Every Sabbath Moment gives me hope. Earlier I was reading Terry Tempest Williams’ book “Erosion” and this sentence spoke to me, “We need not lose hope, we just need to locate where it dwells.” Pat
–May this change in your routine be refreshing and renewing for you. You give so much to your readers through your writing and reflections. Now you also model setting down even good things For a season to be free to receive something new. It is an important testimony. Sister Julian
POEMS AND PRAYERS
I am enchanted by the Sermon on the Mount. Being merciful, it seems to me, is the only good idea we have received so far. Perhaps we will get another idea that good by and by—and then we will have two good ideas. Kurt Vonnegut
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.
Naomi Shihab Nye
O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us.
May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings.
Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory.
Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world.
[Please add your own intentions.]…
Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.