Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In the Storm

Some black ducks
were shrugged up
on the shore.
It was snowing

hard, from the east,
and the sea
was in disorder.
Then some sanderlings,

five inches long
with beaks like wire,
flew in,
snowflakes on their backs,

and settled
in a row
behind the ducks --
whose backs were also

covered with snow --
so close
they were all but touching,
they were all but under

the roof of the duck's tails,
so the wind, pretty much,
blew over them.
They stayed that way, motionless,

for maybe an hour,
then the sanderlings,
each a handful of feathers,
shifted, and were blown away

out over the water
which was still raging.
But, somehow,
they came back

and again the ducks,
like a feathered hedge,
let them
crouch there, and live.

If someone you didn't know
told you this,
as I am telling you this,
would you believe it?

Belief isn't always easy.
But this much I have learned --
if not enough else --
to live with my eyes open.

I know what everyone wants
is a miracle.
This wasn't a miracle.
Unless, of course, kindness --

as now and again
some rare person has suggested --
is a miracle.
As surely it is.

We live so much in a world where we are quick to blame our human species for all its shortcomings. The more we know about the harm we do, which is so easily seen on the internet as disasters and the killing of cultures and ecosystem, the more dsipiratied we become about our kind.

I am reminded of a quote from the Movie, Contact, where the advanced species says during first contact between our species and another:

You're an interesting species, an interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.

We are an interesting mix. We evolved for such judgment, competition, and violence. We also evolved for compassion, collaboration, and kindness. If we keep our eyes open we can see that tragedy is never far from beauty, nor violence from kindness. I write this as if it this concession is easily given. It is difficult to accept all of who we are. Perhaps the miracle then isn't that we can be kind and forgiving, but that we can be grateful for it when the storms of life might as easily sweep us into oblivion, and might in the very next moment. So there is no time to waste.

Kindness first! For ducks, sanderlings, humans, and all beings.

Because for me, living is not about belief in God or miracles. I'm with the Dali Lama who said: My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

Where have you seen or known kindness recently? Is it "enough?"


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  2. I'm reading this years after its original posting date, at the tail end of the 2016 election cycle, and seeing how, sadly, kindness does seem to be a miracle rather than an everyday grace. When I first encountered this poem I saw the miracle of kindness akin to the miracle of the Internet or the miracle of having lights in my house that turn on whenever I flip a switch or the miracle of unlimited water coming out of my sink, but now I see how kindness, especially in the face of so much division and hatred, is more like the healing miracles we read about in the Gospels and book of Acts. I think of the violence of the past six years, the way conversation and debate has been replaced in so many areas with normalized bullying and outright disrespect. It is easy to lose hope. But maybe the biggest miracle is that we, as individuals, can choose to be kind, to live into kindness in as many ways as we can, and hope that kindness catches fire again. And also to look for the kindness that is really still there all around us. And perhaps the outrage so many of us feel right now will motivate us, as things come to light, to expose systems and ideologies that need to change. In any event, thank you for this marvelous entry in a marvelous blog. I've been using it as my daily meditation for some time now, but this is my first comment. Thank you for all the work, thought, time, and spirit you've put into it.

  3. What a beautiful poem. Which book is it in? I can't seem to find it!