Poetry Friday: Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

Poetry Friday is hosted by Keri at Keri Recommends


Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

I have been thinking a lot about kindness and our collective sense of humanity this week, as President Obama’s days in office dwindle and we enter another dimension entirely: one where bullying, misogyny, racism, and selfish gain are not only permitted by the man who will sit in the White House, but celebrated, too.  If  Wednesday’s press conference is any indication, we will be seeing this behavior every day and it may well begin to be the “new normal”.

I worry about what this will do to us as a nation, but I worry more about its effect on our children; we may teach them not to behave and speak in disrespectful, intimidating ways, but they will see their President doing so every day, and getting away with it.  How to teach kindness in the face of that?

In my small world, which is my classroom, I think I need to speak less about kindness and endeavor to show more of it.  Our kids are watching closely these days, more than ever.  I think they see the disconnect between what we say they should do (anti-bullying posters and assemblies) and how we behave towards them and each other, how we tolerate the bullying by the powerful and make excuses for that.  I need to cultivate my patience, I need to look for the causes underlying acting out, I need to  be willing to see things from their point of view even when it gets in the way of what I’m trying to accomplish as a teacher.   If my students don’t see me practicing every day kindness, if they don’t feel my essential sympathy for them even when they aren’t at their best, it doesn’t matter what else I say to them – the road will only be wide/the rain will never stop falling.

I can’t do anything about the behavior of the man who will soon be in the White House, but I can be vigilant about the way I behave in my house… and my classroom, too (which is, after all, my home away from home.




20 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

  1. At the end of the day if I haven’t harmed anyone and I’ve worked to lift kids up, I think of my day as successful. Give them a pencil. Squeeze a shoulder. Help a kid put words to his thoughts. That is the job of a good teacher.

  2. This is exactly the poem we need by one of them most compassionate poets out there. Thank you. I share your sentiments exactly. We have a fragile road ahead of us. May the wind be at our backs as we navigate the “puddles” that lie ahead.

  3. Compassion is the parent of empathy. I hope you will continue to remind me of this. Love the poem and your convictions. Let’s lift each other up!

  4. Thank you for this post, Tara, and for the poem (one of my favorites), and for the ways you are embodying kindness and compassion with your 6th graders. I try to imagine how I would be in my own classroom if I had one this year, and I can’t quite conjure it. I would rather imagine you. Stay strong in kindness!

  5. You are walking the walk, not just talking the talk. I think of Michelle Obama in the same way. Kids may not listen to us always, but they are always watching our behaviors! Love how you worked the message of the poem into your post today.

  6. “…do what he’s doing with one another…” Our challenge as you and Naomi Shihab Nye point out is to show the kindness so needed in our world. Thanks for this poem and your thoughts.

  7. The packages we hold… Remembering each other’s fragile selves is our daily charge. Doing this throughout the strains of any life need to become more normal and what we crave. Such a beautiful poem and post to remember this with. Thank you, Tara.

  8. Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for sharing the poem that shows us how to be kind to one another, and for the work you do everyday to show kindness to your students. Showing kindness to those I meet throughout the day has become my goal ever since the election. I am worried, but I am also hopeful that a better way can be shown by ordinary people coming together.

  9. This post is a one of beliefs. Yours are strong, Tara. You hear the hum of your students’ dreams deep inside them (borrowing a thought from Naomi). Keep that light burning bright because you are impacting the lives of others.

  10. I was moved by your post, and I found this poem in your words:

    Everyday Kindness

    I need to
    my patience,

    I need to
    for the causes underlying
    acting out,

    I need to be
    willing to see
    from their point of view
    even when
    it gets in the way
    of what I’m trying to accomplish
    as a teacher.

    That’s beautiful to me. Nye’s poem is beautiful, too. And that’s what teachers do, carry children on their shoulders, above the wet and worry of the world.

  11. This is a wonderful call to action, Tara. For you, but for all of us. Naomi Shihab Nye — her words have healing power.

  12. As the “golden rule” seems to be one of the foundations of religion, I wonder why it is not promoted more. Perhaps because “do unto others” is such an awkward turn of phrase for the 21st century. Let’s write a contemporary version of the “rule” (but we probably should avoid calling it “golden” for the next few weeks).

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