A Poem for the Week

I’ve been writing a middle grade novel, and this week I drafted a chapter in which sixth graders unpack a bit of Miller Williams’ poem, “Compassion”:

Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.

–excerpt from “Compassion” by Miller Williams, from The Way We Touch: Poems, 1997
set to music and performed by his daughter, Lucinda Williams on her album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, 2014

And, of course, since compassion was so much in my head, my heart wanted in on the action, and I was faced with a situation that called for taking compassionate action instead of just being frustrated. The decision to act instead of merely talking about acting is often humbling and challenging. I tried to channel my best David Brooks’ civility, grace, and honesty. I’m not sure I succeeded, but as I’ve reflected on how I might grow this space of compassion, I came across this poem I love by Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), translated from the Japanese by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto:

Under cherry trees
there are
no strangers

Issa’s simple, beautiful metaphor of connection via shared experience is transcendent. It lifts me out of the quotidian and invites the grace of beauty, compassion, and empathy. And sometimes we need no more than a tree in bloom to remember.

This week’s featured photo is the little peach tree in our backyard, blooming away in the April sunshine.

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