Edited by James Crews
Foreword by Danusha Laméris
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Edited by Liz Bevilacqua
Art direction and book design by Alethea Morrison
Cover art and illustrations by © Dinara Mirtalipova
Text © 2022 by James Crews except as shown on pages 207–211
Ebook production by Slavica A. Walzl
Ebook version 1.0
April 12, 2022
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file
Your legacy is every life you touch.
The Practice of Connection
Worry Stone for My Grandfather
Reflective Pause: The Soil That Is You
Into Wildflower Into Field
A Beginner's Guide To Gardening Alone
The Heartbeat of My Unborn Child
Most Important Word
My Daughter Meets My White Pine
Peace Came Today
A Chair by the Creek
Filling the Candles
Reflective Pause: The Sacred Everyday
Trying to Pray
Twenty Years of Longing
The Heart Is Not
Learning by Heart
A Small Moment
Reflective Pause: Reassembling the Parts
More than Seeing
The Most Important Thing
Before I gained all this weight
The Age of Affection
Last Scraps of Color in Missouri
It Doesn't Take Much
Reflective Pause: Part of It All Again
The Thing Is
Take Love for Granted
A Perfect Arc
The Summer You Learned to Swim
Carrying Water to the Field
At the Creek
Reflective Pause: Would That Be Heaven?
My Father's Hands
Early in the Morning
Everybody in the Same House
How to Wake
Reflective Pause: A Welcoming World
My Mother's Van
I Save My Love
In Praise of Dirty Socks
Exactly 299,792,458 Meters Per Second
About Standing (in Kinship)
Kinship of Flesh
Reflective Pause: Where Beauty Is Honed
Round Robin Letter
The News of Love
Arctic Night, Lights Across the Sky
The Dogs at Live Oak Beach, Santa Cruz
New York Downpour
Abundance to Share with the Birds
For the Korean Grandmother on Sunset Boulevard
Reflective Pause: So You Are Here
Gas Station Communion
A Great Wild Goodness
No Small Thing
I Would Like
A Pot of Red Lentils
You Reading This, Be Ready
Still Life with Ladder
Braiding His Hair
Love in Our Sixties
The Innermost Chamber of My Home Is Yours
When You Meet Someone Deep In Grief
Reflective Pause: Here to Listen
The Thing She Loves Most
Last Day of Kindergarten
What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade
Reflective Pause: What You Missed
On the Back Porch
Lullaby for an Empty Nester
Where I Might Find Her
Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion
Discover the Joy of Gratitude with More Books from Storey
Share Your Experience!
Most of us spend a lot of time waiting for the right moment, by which I mean the moment when everything is as we want it to be: the laundry done, the faucet fixed, the kids all getting along with each other. We wait for it to rain, or for it to stop raining. For the pandemic to be over. For a baby to be born, or for the kids to leave the house. Wait until we get the promotion, the car, the partner. The conditions we place on our experience of life are endless.
And when I'm struck by a moment of sanity, I notice those conditions falling away, if only for an instant. The house is a mess, and yet, here I am, as I was earlier today, accepting a rose from a woman I don't even know, who, on the small country road where I walk with my husband, ran after me to extend her hand and offer a flower the most brilliant shades of pink and apricot, the petals ruffled like petticoats. "Here!" she said. "For you!" And I don't know what was more beautiful: the rose, or the effort she made to deliver it. For the whole walk, it glowed, a presence, between us.
Meanwhile, wars waged on, the hospital wards remained full, many went to bed hungry. How do we live in the gap between the hoped-for and the real?
We want the world to be less broken. Ourselves to be less broken. To love an unbroken person. But here we are. So many days, it's difficult to carry on. The simple, mammalian pleasure of touch can be the anchor we need. Or witnessing a beloved engaged in an everyday task—like washing dishes, or braiding a child's hair—and there it is, the breath of the sacred.
What we really want to know is, "Am I welcome here? Am I part of the tribe? Do I have a place?" And so, when a stranger offers a flower, it seems possible. Possible that we are meant to be exactly where—and who—we are. That we are meant.
The most memorable moments of my life are often the smallest. Not my college graduation (a blur), but the moment a little girl took the ends of my scarf when I was walking through a crowd at the farmer's market, and began to twirl, inviting me into an impromptu pas de deux. It seemed no one else saw it, and so it felt as if we'd stepped outside of time.
Kindness is not sugar, but salt. A dash of it gives the whole dish flavor. I want to keep remembering, to keep living into these moments and the worlds they contain. To know they are where the world I want to live in is made. That it is made right here, in the heart of the broken, the ordinary. These poems remind me. These voices give shape to that world. They show a way.
The Practice of Connection
When my husband, Brad, was nineteen years old, he joined the military, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his uncle and grandfather. During his first few weeks at the assigned Air Force base, however, he fell into a deep depression. After a few sessions with the on-base psychologist, he finally realized he was gay and came out. "You know what this means," the psychologist said. It meant that under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, he was soon discharged from the military and sent home. I can only imagine the shame that followed him to the small town in Vermont where he grew up, and where he told no one for years the real reason he'd left the Air Force.
Brad first shared this story with me not long after we moved in together. "Suicide was a daily option," he said. The idea that this gentle farmer, who uplifts everyone he meets and cares so much for the land, might have ended his life still seems inconceivable to me. Yet what kept him pushing through those dark days, he says, were the small kindnesses offered by neighbors, friends, and customers at the organic farm where he began to work. He would be out for a run or walk, certain that this would be the day he could bear his secret no longer, and someone passing by in their pickup truck would wave, or a friend of the family would stop to ask how he was doing. The weight of his shame became lighter, and he knew he could keep going for another day.
As a lifelong city dweller, I struggled at first with receiving all the caring attention from friends and family in our small community. But after Brad shared his story with me, and then with the whole state of Vermont during his campaign for the US Senate, I soon saw how the daily kindnesses were saving me as well. I felt it when my mother-in-law called if she saw an unfamiliar car in our driveway; when our neighbor Christy would leave mason jars of fresh-pressed apple cider on our side porch; or when my father-in-law would wake early after a nor'easter to plow our driveway. I began to see too that we can create a beloved community like this no matter where we live.
Many of us have faced times when life felt impossible to bear—until a friend texted, or the barista at our favorite coffee shop started chatting with us. Because the sparks of connections like this last for just a few minutes, we might lose heart, believing that what little we can give to each other will have no lasting effect on a world that feels so broken and divided. But my hope is that, as you read through the poems gathered here, you will see kindness not just as a spontaneous act that happens on its own, but as a practice of noticing and naming the many moments of tenderness we witness, give, and receive throughout our days. Over the past year, as I shared these poems with students, family, and friends, I felt profoundly moved by the goodness they seem to prove is our basic human nature. It has become a daily, conscious ritual for me to hold on to as many of my own small kindnesses as possible in what social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson calls "moments of positive resonance."
These poems retrained me to seek out and find connection at a time when so many of us have grown more isolated. Sometimes a simple hello from someone I passed on the trail in the park or a glimmer in the eyes of a grocery-store cashier was enough to restore my faith in humanity for another day. I began to find ways to be kinder to the people in my own life, too, welcoming the task of helping my elderly mother order groceries online, or sending care packages to friends I hadn't seen in months. By showing us all the ways we can still practice being together, these poems encourage us to capture and hold on to the moments that matter the most to us in life. Many of the poems included here also model for us the ways that we might let ourselves surrender more fully to joy, especially in service of self-care. In "Ode," Zoe Higgins uncovers the pleasure of leaving "everything undone" and relieving herself of the constant pressure of the to-do list. And in "Before I gained all this weight," Molly Fisk shares the desire to go back and shake the girl she once was, awakening her to all the beauty she couldn't see around her because of shame and fear.
Because a poem contains just a dose of the author's experience, including the sorrows, pleasures, and struggles all at the same time, it offers us the truest expression of the human condition. If we let it, each poem here can become an invitation to step deeper into our own lives and relationships with others, too. We might read a poem like Christine Kitano's "For the Korean Grandmother on Sunset Boulevard" and remember that we can find pleasure and kinship even in the simplest observation of a stranger to whom we never speak. Or we might take in the motherly sacrifice at the heart of Ada Limón's "The Raincoat" and Faith Shearin's "My Mother's Van," and recall the sacrifices our own loved ones made for us, or that we made for others. These poems also urge us toward a deeper relationship with the natural world so that we notice, as January Gill O'Neil does in "Elation," the way a grove of trees will "claim this space as their own, making the most of what's given them," just like we do. I encourage you to use these poems, Reflective Pauses, and Discussion Questions at the end of the book as companions on your own path. Let a poem bring some memory to the surface or follow the call of an opening line or image to some truth of your own, whether you write it down or share it with someone you trust.
Poetry is an ideal tool in times of uncertainty and change in our lives because it grounds us in the now, opening our hearts and minds to the worlds outside and within. Please feel free to share the poems that move you with family and friends, allowing these deeply felt pieces to bring us all closer together until we see, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it so well, that we are all "caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." Perhaps that's why, when my husband and I take our daily walks on the roads around our house, we make a point of waving and smiling at every person and every car we pass. We both know all too well that a simple gesture of welcome might change someone's day and might even save their life.
I've been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
“Our world desperately needs poems that help us come home to loving presence. You have in your hands an anthology with poems that directly nourish the spirit.” — Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance
“This collection of poetry is soul food worthy of savoring. Each poem is a feast unto itself, delivering nourishment for the heart's greatest tenacity and generosity - so needed in our individual and collective lives. It is a banquet of blessings to which I will return often. Thank you.” — Kristi Nelson, Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living and author of Wake Up Grateful
"The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection and Joy is the book we all need right now to help guide us during this crazy time in living our lives with more kindness, compassion and joy." — Georgia Heard, author of A Field Guide to the Heart: Poems of Love, Comfort, and Hope
"The Path to Kindness is an anthology I’ve been seeking since I learned to read. To enter its pages is to enter a refuge, a sanctuary where the religion is tenderness and every voice encountered wears its heart on its sleeve. James Crews has curated these poems with exquisite care: the delicate threads linking each to the next weave the whole into a multivoiced spell that leaves the reader both broken open and deeply healed at once. This is a return of poetry to it’s sacred place as a song of prayer to the best in us, a song of grief for the lost in us, a song to awaken the possible in us. And ultimately, The Path to Kindness is a song that carries us beyond ourselves into the ways we touch each other’s lives, nameable only in poems such as these." — Kim Rosen, author of Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words
"Is kindness a quaint, ineffectual virtue? For poet and editor James Crews, the answer is a resounding no. As he demonstrates throughout “The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection and Joy,” a follow-up collection to his bestselling anthology “How to Love the World,” kindness can be life-altering. It may also help people find a way forward during the most difficult days." — Christian Science Monitor
- On Sale
- Apr 12, 2022
- Page Count
- 224 pages