by Danusha Laméris
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.”
From Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection. Edited by James Crews. Reprinted by permission of author.
In dark times, we must remember that, as Danusha Laméris points out, “Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.” This truth can be difficult to trust when we hear news of the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and people from other countries detained at American airports for many, many hours for no apparent reason. When we hear of swastikas spray-painted on schoolroom walls or the insidious raid on a church shelter where immigrants have gathered to stay warm. But I believe that we do want to be kind to one another, to smile at passersby, and move our legs, and compliment someone on their glasses or hat. Returning to the roots of this essential kindness takes daily training in paying attention to the ways even our slightest gestures can affect others. Think about the last time you walked out of the house feeling that the world was against you, that there was no hope left for the human race. What drew you out of that dark mood? Was it the call or text from a friend? Was it a stranger’s smile that broke the veneer of your anxiety, reminding you that connection is the spark we carry within us at all times, the fire we pass on when we look someone in the eyes and wave or ask them how they are? The powers-that-be in this country want us to believe that there is no hope left, that there is no use in preserving the natural world for future generations, no use in safeguarding our precious resources. They want us fearful, divided, negative and—above all—isolated from ourselves, and each other, so that we become too depressed and downtrodden to notice what’s really going on. But moments of kindness and connection are indeed the “fleeting temples we make together” in which we can stop and dwell for a time. They are, as one friend recently put it, rafts on which we can float from one uncertain moment to the next, saving both ourselves and others in the process.
Invitation: Write about some of the “small kindnesses” you have received recently, those “moments of exchange” that we might otherwise ignore or take for granted.