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
Last night at 7:00pm, I lit a candle for Camila – along with so many others around the world who have found solace with The Compassionate Friends. It was the annual Worldwide Candle Lighting.
I had been away from my group for a semester. Given an evening class at our local university, my Mondays were no longer free for our meeting, and so I went last night with a heart made heavier by December and a deep need to see the faces of my friends, these men and women I had come to know through our shared sorrow and support.
This meeting place had become familiar and dear, and I re-entered it with gratitude and relief.
After the candle lighting, after readings and remembrances, as my eyes scanned the room, I felt my heart fill with comfort. I saw familiar faces, recognized heads bent in silence or leaning into a comforting embrace. And there were, as there always are, some new faces, people bowed by old sorrows or bent with new loss.
While the warm flames glowed in memory of our loved ones, there was another kind of love raising the light of the room: the light of those souls that carry on, that kept living despite their loss: a mother who had lost a son, a father who had lost a daughter.
There we sat, with our sorrows and with each other, embraced by a light raised last night around the world. The quiet harmony of kindness created the presence of peace in the room. All the collected kindnesses – a tender turn of concern, a quiet act of solace, an ingrained understanding – all the heart-felt care and comfort we extend to each other came to me across the candle light, creating a shadow of peace and a shelter of love.
As I sat in the silence, in my inner ear, I began to hear my sister singing “Ave Maria,” her voice pure and clear, rising above us and filling the room with tender glory.
Later, driving home, I left Leslie a message, describing the moment I heard her voice in the candlelit room. When she called me back, after my greeting and without a word, she began to sing…
Those that keep living learn something about loving:
Though we can no longer love as we had loved, it is by finding other ways to love, and to keep loving, that we re-build our hearts and our relationship with the world.
As we hold each other up, we sustain ourselves.
I drove on in the dark toward home, my sister’s voice filling the car, enveloping me in love.
Here is a link to Nye’s full poem, “Kindness.”