The Anti-Trump

It's either been too cold, too wet, or too cold and wet to get out birding recently, so I've finally used up all the pictures I've taken. Hopefully, I'll get out shortly, but until I do I either have to write about the many books I've read recently but haven't had the ambition to organize my notes into a rational statement or read some new poetry books and comment on them.

For now I decided to do the latter and began by reading Naomi Shihab Nye's Words under the Words: Selected Poems. published in 1995. I actually commented on Nye's Fuel in 2002 but had almost forgotten about her in the intervening years. Luckily, I was reminded of her poetry recently, for it seems like a perfect antidote to the constant barrage of Trump news that has filled my Facebook page and my news feeds.

Tell, me can you imagine Trump, or his supporters, for that matter, ever reading, much less writing, a poem called "Kindness."

Kindness

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.

Colombia

For better or worse, I've never lost all the things Nye mentions in the first stanza, though I suspect losing my faith in the American Dream after serving in Vietnam probably made me kinder, and less self-centered, than I might otherwise have ever become. I know it inspired me to become a caseworker instead of a banker or businessman which, in turn, forced me to see just "how desolate the landscape can be." Afraid I would end up staring "out the window forever," I left casework to become a teacher where it seemed more likely that I could actually help people.

I've never seen where an "Indian in a white poncho/lies dead by the side of the road," but I'm still haunted by fellow officers who died in Vietnam pursuing their dreams. Though I'm not sure seeing those bodies made me kinder, I do know it made me realize just how precarious life really is, that there are never any assurances that things will "turn out for the best."

I've certainly experienced my share of sorrow, and at times felt overwhelmed by it and empathized with the sorrow of others who haven't been as lucky as I've been. The Buddha had it right when he said, “What is the noble truth of suffering? Birth is suffering, ageing is suffering and sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering.”

The Buddha's answer to that suffering was "compassion," or, in Nye's words, "Kindness." I suspect some of us are going to need all the kindness we can muster to get through the next four years and a President who tries to bully and belittle anyone who opposes his ideas. Though I've already managed to fly off the handle at some Trump supporters, I would consider myself a better person if I could manage to empathize with them while still standing up for what I believe in myself. After all, kindness would seem to demand that we treat all people, and not just those who agree with us, the best we can.

8 thoughts on “The Anti-Trump

  1. Thank you for sharing that poem.

    On sort of a related note, I remember reading a book where a priest said there is really only one sin- selfishness- and every other sin is an offshoot of that. I think if you took away selfishness and self-centeredness, kindness is what remains.

  2. Thank you for reminding me to read this poem again. It is such an antidote to the news of the world right now. How much I wish this were the theme of the journey in which we are about to embark. We will each one of us have to remember kindness as we go forward.

  3. Though I am apolitical and always have been….I would not write off all Trump supporters with such a broad stroke, there are open minded and kind people who support him and wish him well for four or eight years….whatever will be.

    • There are always exceptions, but I can’t imagine how anyone who valued “kindness” highly could vote for him. Politics aside, he seems to go out of his way to bully people, even people who can’t defend themselves.

      I still pray he can help those middle class workers who have lost their jobs to industrial change, whether due to outsourcing or the increased use of robots;

  4. It’s a pleasure to read your blog posts. I hadn’t seen this poem before, but I’m glad to have come across it here. It reminds me of the following quote, in that within suffering, whether personal or societal, we can opt to respond in ways framed around assets instead of deficits: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

    Your comment about Trump supporters neither writing nor reading a poem entitled “Kindness” gave me a chuckle. LOL! True!

    I did interpret the “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,
” to refer not to a literal location or literal dead body, but to how seeing suffering, wretched individuals in miserable conditions with absolutely no support from anyone–friends, family, or society–will cause one (particularly those without resources, financial and/or social) to experience terror that this could happen, that this could be you should your bad luck continue its current trend. There is a level of decency we expect from our societal institutions, and the image of a body left to rot by a road is, I believe, meant to be taken as a visceral, callous indignity that has to shock the man on the bus into realizing his own precarious situation.

    At my Emergency Department a few years back, we had an elderly patient whose family had taken her home after her hospitalization for sepsis due to infection at a severe diabetic foot ulcer. They put her in the yard in her wheelchair for weeks and wouldn’t let her come in the house because of the smell. They didn’t care for her wound. They didn’t change her bandages even once. When the smell got even worse after a few weeks and she began to scream continuously in pain, they finally called EMS out to the house. She arrived at the ED in heavily soiled clothing with her wound crawling with pockets of maggots and had to be amputated. It’s shocking to realize how vulnerable we can become without someone, anyone willing to practice some basic human kindness in the face of that depth of misery and need. Instead, we see people in wretched, miserable condition and just leave them to rot on the side of the road or in their backyards. Anyway, that’s my anecdote for why I read it the slightly less literal way.

    Thank you again for posting! I love your blog!

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