Maybe you’ve seen this poem before. It was featured in the New York Times Magazine in September of 2019, then gained viral fame in 2020 as people looked for signs of hope during the pandemic. Somehow, I missed it. But I read it a few weeks ago and have been thinking about it since.
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
“Mostly we don’t want to harm each other.” This is an idea to hold on to. A little kindness can go a long way, especially today, when there is so much dividing us.
After the poem was published, author Danusha Lameris collaborated with the New York Times, inviting teenagers to read the poem and reflect on the small kindnesses they encounter. Over 1,300 young people from around the world responded, and it was clear the impact these moments of kindness have on young people as well. Here are just a few of the ‘small kindnesses’ these teenagers shared:
A neighbor saying hello, a friend waiting while you stop to tie your shoelace while everyone continues walking, letting someone have the last cookie then they insist on splitting it, a stranger in a crowded grocery store with a simple hand gesture saying, “go ahead”, no one is forcing that person to hold open that door, they just are and they’re doing it for me.
And the one that impacted me the most: “Pessimism, sadness, gloom. Then someone tells me, “After you.” They will not think of it again, but I will.”
During the project with The Times Laméris said, “All of these things point to something so important: The smallest things we do just might matter a great deal. I am moved by the realization that simply speaking a name, giving a wave, or offering a space in traffic could change someone’s whole day. Or more.”
When we act and speak with kindness, even in small, everyday things, that simplicity draws us together; these are tiny wishes, prayers, for others – including those unknown to us – to live life well.
This poem is an invitation to practice kindness where you can. Whatever may be going on in the larger world, or in your own personal world, you can always choose to come back to kindness. Go out into the world and spread kindness this weekend, and beyond!
Written by Michelle O’Brien, Manager of Marketing & Communications