TRIAL: Inner Cave
“Kindness,” by Naomi Shihab Nye
Eventually all heroes have to enter the un-enterable: the inner cave, the underworld, the realm of the dead. In real life this can happen at high noon, in a speeding vehicle, or in a crowded park. We enter, often all of a sudden, and we leave changed.
Naomi Shihab Nye’s life was changed on her honeymoon. She and her husband were traveling through South America, when there was an attack on the bus they were riding. They lost things (including their passports), but they were okay. Not everyone was. While her new husband went to the consulate, Nye sat in the plaza, where strangers were kind to her, and she wrote a poem. She said it came to her whole cloth, in this inner cave that was out in the open.
Listen to Naomi Shihab Nye read her poem at On Being.
The first line I learned from “Kindness” was “You must wake up with sorrow.” Because Nye is right: Before we know kindness, we must know sorrow. We have to have been cut to care about the bleeding in others.
There will be unkind cuts, and they will cause sorrow. But we can leave this inner cave changed. Only then will be a hero.
Be a Hero
This poem could have had a different title —”Murder” for its trauma, or possibly “Honeymoon” in an ironic twist. But Nye titled it “Kindness.” That’s her takeway because she went into the inner cave and left different.
At this point in our journey we have suffered much. Suffering is real, but it is not the final word. What unexpected title might we give to our story?
What does the poem say about your hero’s journey?
Try to learn at least a little of it by heart.
If you like, email me at email@example.com.
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro