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.”
I often think about small kindnesses, the simplicity and ease of them. How they are not as rare as they may seem when you stop to notice. But to put them together in a poem, now that’s a kindness in itself. My thanks to my lovely friend Margaret who first alerted me to this treasure.
The poet gives us such ordinary examples that I think we can all relate to: people pulling in their legs to let you by, saying ‘bless you’, picking up spilled lemons (or anything that rolls across the floor when dropped!). Mostly we don’t want to harm each other. It’s true, despite apparent evidence to the contrary in the news, we do not wish harm.
To say thank you for the cup of hot coffee, smile and be smiled at. To be called honey at the diner, for the driver to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far / from tribe and fire. The news, what we mainly hear, is divisive, separating us from one another, our tribe, our humanity. These gestures draw us together around the fire, small daily communities of connection.
Only these brief moments of exchange – these small kindnesses are available to us in every moment when we pay attention to our words and actions, to those of others around us. She tells us we make these fleeting temples together when we act and speak with kindness and it is their everydayness, their simplicity that draw us together, tiny prayers for living life well.
Go ahead – you first.