Kindness in the face of suffering

I have recently had the sad news that a number of close friends and family have cancer, one with breast cancer, another with cancer of the bowl, the other with stomach cancer. Within the same week I was told that another friend had recently taken a overdose. I was left feeling a very strong sense of the amount of suffering and pain there is in the world. Suffering can take many forms. Some people are living with physical pain, others mental and emotional distress. At times it can all seem rather overwhelming and one can feel left with a sense of helplessness. I am reminded of the poem by Naomi Shihab Nye called Kindness, where she says

“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 it till your voice, catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.”

I feel that when I try to be open to my friends suffering I begin to see the “thread of all sorrows and the size of the cloth”. The Buddha taught that birth, old age sickness and death are marks or this world. Suffering is a part of life and what it is to be human. Sometimes we find meaning through our suffering and we are able to find a creative response or choice to the situation. These last few weeks when seeing others close to me, who I love and care for suffer, I have felt like my heart is being torn apart. Then the small acts of kindness seem the only way to respond to my friends suffering. We may choose to accompany a friend or partner to the hospital, cook them their dinner, or simply listen and be there for them. Maybe even tell them they are loved and cared for. Whatever we chose to do we can have confidence that being with our own suffering and that of others connects us into the great web of humanity and what it is to be simply human.

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 kindess 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.
Naomi Shihab Nye Kindness