This year, the holidays follow a season loss – of the comfort of shelter, neighborhoods, routines, and so much more. That shock to our collective system was followed immediately by a manifestation of the true character of our community. Kindness became our defining characteristic with pervasiveness and urgency.
Many who are on the receiving end of this unprecedented generosity have mixed emotions. Of course they are grateful for both the tangible and emotional support. But reconciling their newfound circumstance of need, innate pride, self-sufficiency, and more with an onslaught of offerings from friends and strangers alike is an overwhelming challenge at an impossibly difficult time. A recent grantee of a Creative Sonoma Recovery Grant expressed to us that “receiving continues to be more difficult than the difficulties brought by the wildfires and everything that they took.”
This artist is finding his equilibrium in accepting these physical goods and good intentions by recognizing the new community they represent of which he is a central part. Another grantee shared with us a favorite poem that has taken on new meaning for him titled “Kindness,” by Naomi Shihab Nye, reprinted below.
We can all use a reminder that a graceful acceptance of an act of kindness is required to complete a giver’s intention, which ultimately doubles the dose of good that results. As most eloquently said by Gandhi, “The fragrance always remains on the hand that gives the rose.”
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.
-Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952)