poetry wednesday. the tender gravity of kindness.

Last Wednesday, just last Wednesday–only a week ago and it seems so much has happened since then–I taught an amazing group of teachers in my VerbTribe for Teachers class from a beautiful cottage on Tybee Island, Georgia. Our last teleseminar was scheduled for 4pm. It is always a tug at my heart to finish a VerbTribe class, and this one was no exception. An extraordinary group of teachers had gathered, shared, learned, taught, embraced their own vulnerability. It was–and still is–a true community in the Henri Nouwen sense: “Community is not a talent show in which we dazzle the world with our combined gifts. Rather, community is the place where our shared poverty is acknowledged and accepted as a true source of new life.”

As part of the class, one of the questions asked was whether there is a poem I love, that holds me up, that I go to again and again.

And without hesitation, I knew it was Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness,” a poem I learned about from my friend and neighbor Catherine Faherty who years after introducing it to me would be on the team of people to diagnose Tess with Asperger’s. It was also Catherine who was friends with Mary Anne, the mother of Meta, a young woman who died far too young. Mary Anne used to sing Naomi Shihab Nye’s songs to her daughter Meta when she was little; Catherine called Naomi when it was clear Mary Anne was dying just a year after her daughter’s death, to tell Naomi of Mary Anne’s connection to her music and poems. And then poet Naomi Shihab Nye sang over the phone those very songs to Mary Anne. Life is a circle, my friends. A circle, if we let it find its true shape.

And at the very moment that John got the scan that would reveal his cancer, I was reading aloud this poem to my VerbTribe for Teachers class.


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 purchase 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

As friends like Amy McCracken have rallied to help us pay for care for John’s cancer treatment and hundreds of people have given, and friends Kim Mailhot and Lisa Rough have both offered their beautiful art for sale to benefit John, I am learning the tender gravity of kindness; I am knowing kindness as the deepest thing inside. And I am learning a lesson that is very, very hard for me: to let people help me. I am always on the other end of this equation, and being on the receiving end is so hard for me. I was moved to tears by this comment on Facebook from FrancesFrenchie Kessler to me: “Sometimes grace requires that you allow that flow of generosity that you so willingly give to others turn itself to ebb back to you.”

And so I am practicing grace. And letting go so circles can continue to form.

“Community is the place where our shared poverty is acknowledged and accepted as a true source of new life.”


Patti's signature


  1. Thank you for sharing this amazing poem.  It struck so many chords in my heart.

  2. So true. So beautiful. Such a keeper. Relax in the NOW that is Do the next thing.

  3. Where’s Berries tissues?! I’m speechless that as I sat listening to you read, Mr. Brilliant was going through that. A whole new level of grace. You are magic in my life. I hope that I can continue to be part of one of your circles. And in some small way, make your journey more pleasant.

  4. Oh Patti! You’re bursting my heart with your tender words. What a gift for people to be able to stand by you, to acknowledge and thank you for your steadfast love and kindness with their own love and kindness. As it should be, as it should be.

  5. heart this

  6. This brought tears…I loved this poem when you read it to us, and it breaks my heart for you to think that all the while your sweet, sweet husband was having his scan. Has anyone ever told you that YOU are a walking, breathing poem? Because you are! Thank you for all that you offer in this world…you have a special gift for making it seem like it’s not such a big world afterall.

  7. Thanks for Patti!  Your words touch my heart and soul.   I love the poem about “Kindness”.    It is loaded with gems of truth.  

  8. It’s such an honor and privilege to be part of your journey, even in the smallest of ways. Thank you so much Patti for opening your world to us in such a raw and authentic way. You are truly a hero to so many…especially me. Prayers and positive thoughts sent your way for you and your family.  

  9. weeping, knowing those desolate landscapes, knowing the truth of this poem.  

  10. I love the last two lines.  I think you have cast a shadow of kindness on so many folks.  Now, it is our turn to return that shadow.  I am praying for you and your family. You are on my heart so much since you learned of John’s cancer.  So, I shall continue to pray for strength, healing, and understanding.  Sending hugs and blessings to you, Patti.

  11. You are an inspiration to so many. Let our generosity flow through you and embrace the ones you love. Close the circle.

  12. You are teaching others how to receive, how to receive kindness, how to be in grace. “Simply” by practicing grace. 

  13. My tears are flowing with yours.  You speak truth like no one else I know.  And you are oh so right on asking for help and receiving help.  Let it flow.  We’re with you Patti.  

  14. with tears in my eyes, I’m reminded of your kindness of bringing a birthday cake, wine, and appetizers, all presented in a gift wrapped box to someone you’d never met…….that would be me, September 29, 2010.        xooxooxxoox

  15. So beautiful and so deeply moving, and to hear you read it to us left me speechless.  Thank you so much for all you have offered all of us with your grace and kindness.  Thinking of you and yours with love ~

  16. dear Patti,
    this is perhaps my favorite poem
    Kim is a dear friend who led me here
    thank you

    sending love your way…

    xox – eb.

  17. Tears…you have shown me so much Patti, including great kindness.  I also find it difficult to receive. To receive kindness or love and I am learning. If cancer doesn’t teach you perhaps nothing will.

    I have been struggling with what I could do to help you. Anything I could think of seemed so little. I think I know now :-)

    Much Love!

  18. dear Patti,
    thank youthis may be my favorite poemI came here by way of Kimwho is a dear friendI am sending my love…xox – eb.

  19. beautiful. just beautiful. thinking of all of you.

  20. Oh my…tears pouring….love you….

  21. Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem. I wish you and your family strength and grace during this difficult time and I am so glad you realize how many people are anxious to lift you up for that strength.

  22. Amen.

  23. Patti, I hope you know how many people you touch, even long distance. I’ve been one of your followers since your first book. God’s blessings on John, you, Emma and Tess. This too shall pass.

    BTW, if you have trouble with finances, the Cancer Centers of America never turn anyone away, no matter whether they can pay or not.

  24. It is a gift to be able to help.

  25. Patti, this is beautiful. Thinking of you and John and Tess and Emma every day, and keeping you all in my heart. Let other people give you the gift of their kindness now, just as you have given so much to all of us.

  26. Patti, just catching up after being away 10 days. Sending healing vibes, strength sunshine rays and good wishes for this journey. May John overcome all of this quickly and may you all draw on your love to get you through the tough hours. Also, I hope you know that you can negotiate all of your healthcare – you do not have to pay retail. This is my specialty, and I hope you know that you will be able to at least reduce the costs through negotiation. If you need any guidance, contact me at my email address. xoxo


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