by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM March 26, 2023
Thirteen years ago, I moved from the Metro New York area, where I had lived and worked for over twenty-five years, to Northeast PA. During those twenty-five years, thanks to the kindness of friends and strangers, I learned my way around Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island by subway, train, and car. I could identify the skyscrapers jutting above the Manhattan skyline and felt confident in navigating that large geographic spread.
In my move to NEPA, I expected to experience culture shock (I did). A sense of being uprooted (I did). What I didn’t expect was to discover how keenly I felt that I was “not in Kansas any more, Toto.”All my hard-earned New York commuting skills didn’t easily transfer to my new landscape, and I was once more a stranger in a foreign land. Sometimes, long-time residents of the area referenced landmarks that no longer existed like, “Go to where the old St. Mary’s Church used to be” or “Turn left at the former Dairy Queen.” Until I bought a GPS, my first few years involved frequent experiences of being lost. Fortunately, I also encountered once again the neighborliness and kindness of strangers when I had taken a wrong turn and lost any sense of direction.
Recently, I attended a session led by the luminous Naomi Shihab Nye that reminded me of these experiences. She read aloud some of her exquisite poetry, including the well-known “Kindness.” She said that she was only the secretary of this particular poem, that it nearly wrote itself. She was on her honeymoon in Colombia when she and her new husband were robbed and left with nothing. Alone, far from home in a foreign land, she was certain it was only the kindness of strangers that saved her. She wrote,
“Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.”
What welcome gifts kindness and hospitality are to any of us who experience life’s swiftly changing landscapes: a sudden and unexpected relocation; the letting go of a cherished home or place or people; the termination of employment; the unwanted journey from full health to diminishment of any kind; the empty ache of a severed relationship; the sense of God’s seeming absence in prayer; the weight of a terrible grief we have swallowed. We may feel that we have taken a wrong turn that carried us into alien territory. We may intuit that we’ve arrived in a desolate landscape where the old maps and landmarks no longer apply. We may realize
“Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at 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.”
Whenever we experience the depths of lost-ness and we feel ourselves utterly bereft, may we know ourselves companioned by our loving God in whom “lost” always moves towards “found.” And with the grace of the Holy One, may we be agents of healing, offering kindness and spaciousness of heart to all those we encounter, today and always.
Sit in silence with the Holy One.
Reflect on an experience you have had of finding yourself in the desolate landscape “between the regions of kindness.”
Name how that felt for you.
Remember those who showed you compassion, or welcome, or spaciousness of heart.
Say their names aloud and hold them in tenderness and prayer with deep gratitude.
Featured Image: Aron Visuals, Unsplash
Blessings of Holy Week, Passover, and Easter! May you and our world experience the fullness of hope and the new life that ushers in this season.
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