Shared World, Shared Words

The inspiring Arab-American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, wrapped a poem around an unexpected experience of kindness she encountered at an airport in Albuquerque and sent it off to exactly two friends ... who passed it on to friends, who passed it on to friends who ... and so the ripple of poetry and goodness went, and courtesy of DailyGood reader, Cynthia Loebig, here it is in front of all of you. At a recent reading of the poem, Nye ended the evening remarking that this spontaneous series of people passing the poem on had probably resulted in more people reading it than it would have, had it appeared in a print magazine ...

Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal, by Naomi Shihab Nye

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.

Well -- one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew -- however poorly used -
She stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we're fine, you'll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let's call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her -- southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies -- little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts -- out of her bag --
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo -- we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers --
Non-alcoholic -- and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American -- ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend -- by now we were holding hands --
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate -- once the crying of confusion stopped
-- has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

Posted by Pavi at April 27, 2007 01:39 PM

Posted by: Paul on May 3, 2007 04:40 AM
In a way this is rather a distressing poem, because it starts from such a pessamistic premise that all men and women are cruel and uncaring and that acts of kindness are rather rare, whereas in my experiance there are kind acts happening, all the time, all around us.
Posted by: jef on May 3, 2007 04:52 AM
Thank you!
Posted by: Molly on May 3, 2007 04:57 AM
I didn't pick up on pessimism at all, or on judgments that people are cruel and uncaring. The author does point briefly and tangentially to the post-9/11 air of suspicion toward strangers--partuclarly those of Arabic descent-- but what transpires then is so transfused with kindness and spontaneity, that the overriding impression is one of sheer joy--the joy of sharing among the human family.
Posted by: Janet on May 3, 2007 05:04 AM
It is absolutely incredible how one act of kindness can spread and fuel more acts of kindness. It brought tears to my eyes. Peace is always possible. Blessings and Peace Janet
Posted by: joanne on May 3, 2007 05:09 AM
Posted by: marta mahini on May 3, 2007 05:27 AM
I was moved reading your article. One random act of kindness snowballs into many opportunities for sharing and caring. May we all continue to be open to giving and receiving kindness. At this time of the Taurus Full Moon/Wesak Festival...Goodwill to everyone and let us be moved to the will of good! namaste b'shalom...
Posted by: Bob on May 3, 2007 05:37 AM
Thank you for sharing good news!
Posted by: Sandy on May 3, 2007 05:40 AM
It is amazing, but shouldn't be so rare an experience, that when we focus on just being human and treating others as we would want to be treated ~ with kindness and respect~ we are able, almost unknowingly, to set our deck of fear cards aside. We are able to act and respond to others from a completely loving place with no room for doubt of ourselves or others. Blessings and Light Sandy
Posted by: maryann moon on May 3, 2007 05:54 AM
There's something so miraculous how one incident, where misunderstanding & feelings of desolation are being experienced and then -a few words of compassion and understanding are spoken and voila! there's joy and goodwill regained and shared instead! A simple story, yet extraordinary to read. Love and kindness are so easy to come from the heart
Posted by: a. on May 3, 2007 06:26 AM
I am a law student, at times disenchanted; mother of three, all the time, tired but happy; a daughter of humanitarians, whose message sometimes is lost to me; sister of future, moderm women whom I always worry about; wife of a modern man that I never doubt;...this poem encompasses everything and is the only law which bounds everyone. The times may have rendered love hestitant but at no time can love be held back. Thanks so much! More, please.
Posted by: Kevin on May 3, 2007 06:44 AM
That's it I am carrying cookies whenever I travel. It takes so little to break through a barrier yet we live in such fear and suspicion. Lets look at each other starting today.
Posted by: Patty on May 3, 2007 07:02 AM
It just goes to show, you never know what's going on with another person until you actually care to find out. More than likely, the act of caring brins understanding and helps dissipate any negativity or fear. What a gift this story is to anyone who doubts the power of a kind and caring word. This is the real domain of peace. Imagine if our world leaders took the time to really care about each other personally.....Spread love; spread peace :)
Posted by: chai on May 3, 2007 07:13 AM
what a beautiful poem. it touched my inner cord. thank you to both the poet and this blog for sharing it.
Posted by: basima farhat on May 3, 2007 08:05 AM
Kind acts wrap the world in powdered sugar! The roots of humanity lie in the green foliage of life and powdered sugar is good fertilzer and to the world I ask "shoo bit sawoo?" basima farhat
Posted by: marsha on May 3, 2007 09:01 AM
No act of kindness no matter how small is ever wasted ~ Buddha Perfect kindness acts without thinking kindness ~ Lao-Tze
Posted by: Tarlok Chugh on May 3, 2007 09:11 AM
This is a beautiful poem with HIS message of Love, Compassion, Peace and Kindness. And this is exactly what Sukh & Be The Cause team is doing. Kind acts are happening, all the time, all around us. Please see"" also. Thanks for sharing.
Posted by: AlokAloo on May 3, 2007 11:04 AM
Why does it take people so much effort to help somebody and why does it make them feel so great? Why can't this come naturally to people?
Posted by: Sukiana on May 3, 2007 11:25 AM
Such a subtle but powerful message. I think Naomi was meant to be there! I wish more people out there were open to kindness and embracing different cultures and traditional values. I pray everything went well with her treatment!!
Posted by: Elsie on May 3, 2007 11:27 AM
My mother always told me "when God give you lemons, make lemonade". This is the gist of this story. Just beacuse we don't understand someone else's language, cultural diversity and religious beliefs. We can't judge them. All the Arabic woman wanted to know, is what is going on..? Once she found out, contaced her family, she relaxed. As for the kneeling, she was crying and praying to Alla (her God). In the muslim religion prayer rugs are used. In church they have kneeling benches. It doesn't matter how we reach God, it's that we do it! God sent her an angel, the man who helped her. To me this story is a reminder that "we must do onto others as we would do unto ourselves". Let's not forget what our real journey is...
Posted by: Scott on May 3, 2007 11:39 AM
Thank you. That was a wonderful story. It left me with a wonderful feeling of peace and hope that will probably last all day.
Posted by: Karen Bradford on May 3, 2007 01:17 PM
I shared cookies with a woman, too, as I traveled in Tibet last October and stopped to stretch my legs. A woman worked nearby, forming dung patties and slapping them on rocks to dry. I walked over with my bag of cookies and offered it to her. We laughed as she showed me her hands, so I took a cookie and fed it to her as we smiled and left more to give to her friend. No words were needed for sharing. I wonder if she will remember me as I remember her?
Posted by: chantel on May 3, 2007 04:21 PM
i just loved this poem if ther was only more people like her in this world. reading made me want to go out and do a act of kindness . i thought it was great
Posted by: Jenni on May 3, 2007 07:46 PM
A woman feeling valnerable another reaching out to help her. The one praying to her God for help the other responding to her inner voice. Wonderufl feeling of gratitude, grateful that we are able to feel, respond and reach out. If we all just stopped and listened we would become aware of the surrounding energy of love that flows around, within waiting to become released. wonderful inspiring poem!
Posted by: Rashmi on May 5, 2007 10:42 AM
Excellent. Reminded me of a cute lil Asian boy about 3yrs old, that I was looking at while waiting at Frankfurt airport on the escalator his parents had 2 other kids with them and they were rushing off to queue up...I just ruffled his hair. Sometime later while still waiting for my flight and aimlessly walking about I suddenly had this same old kid come and hug me around my thigh...his family was no where in sight...I didn't speak his language and was unable to talk to him...his knapsack had no ID just antother feeding bottle with some juice in it...I just lifted him up and put him on the trolley and looked for his was heart breaking to see the lil kid droop like a sunflower. All I could do was hug him and keep my voice as reassuring as I could...I headed for the Lost & Found section and handed him over and said I think his parents are taking some flight to the S.E. Asia...they made an announcement and soon the parents came to pick him up. Kindness IS rare...but reading other comments from people here makes me feel happy and renews my faith in people and that everyone is inherently good... Rashmi, Delhi
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