Letter to Melissa Coleman

Dear Melissa,

My Father died on December 14, 2011 about 20 minutes after I arrived in Los Angeles, from my home in Wisconsin. Afterwards, I went crazy with my sister, her husband, and my Mom, and then sank down into less reactive sadness, being with my children and wife who arrived a day later, and watching all the doing that can shelter us from emotions that are otherwise too painful.

My form of doing during my time there was reading, in this case finishing Scott and Helen Nearing’s second volume of Living the Good Life and then turning directly to finishing A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by William S. Coperthwaite. The beauty and depth of the life Coperthwaite exudes choked me up. I wanted more company from people like this. So, I turned to the internet in search. I had read, I think, one reference in Helen and Scott’s first 2 volumes about a young couple they sold some land to in Maine. In my internet search, I discovered that this couple had a daughter and she wrote a book?! I ordered it immediately.

Your book was waiting for me when I returned from Los Angeles. I started and finished your book today, December 30th. I ended the book in tears, your story catching the thread of so many recent and personal sorrows and dreams. Dreams of lives designed, ethical, caring, with time for family. Sorrows of losing my Father and my son’s cancer journey. I hope and trust that you have received many letters expressing gratitude for the gift of your book.

As part of my gratitude, I wanted to share with you a poem on the off-chance that you have not read it. I hope and trust that reproducing it here is ok with the author.


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.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase 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 every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye

from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems as shared online

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *