November 21, 2023

Kindness: The Ultimate Gift

An elderly man stood inside the door of the library. He took a wobbly step toward me, nodded, smiled, and said something in a raspy voice I couldn’t hear.

He’d been tall once, but was stooped, rounded, and frail with wispy white hair and loose khaki pants bunched at the waist. His hands were large, knuckled and scarred. A farmer’s hands. His pale blue eyes were kind, and something else. Desperate or needy?

A librarian hurried over. “Welcome,” she said. “Come downstairs. I have a pot of coffee on for your reading.”

Photo of my Grandpa about the same age as the man in the story

I followed her down the narrow steps. The gentleman came behind and took a seat in the front row. He smiled with expectant eyes, the picture of sweet patience. I greeted people as they arrived. The old man kept his eyes on me.

After the group settled, I read from my book Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief and told stories about my husband Vic’s death and my struggle to create a fulfilling life without him. I read a passage that included Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness.”

“Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth…”

I invited people to share experiences about being scared or hopeless and receiving support. The old man was silent. Others spoke in the quiet voices we use when talking about death. I struggled to hear their words.

“I’m quite deaf,” I said, “so please speak up. I know it’s natural to discuss grief in a hushed voice, but I want to hear you.”

The elderly gentleman coughed. A choking, grabbing cough. He pulled a wadded white handkerchief out of his front pocket and covered his mouth. He motioned for us to go on and moved to the back row.

“Anyone have a cough drop?” I asked. A woman handed him a cough drop after loosening the wrapper.

Later I brought the reading to a close with the last words of my book: “When we fall, and we all will fall, we can go on if we lean into each other. May we all keep leaning into love.”

Tears pooled in my eyes. A few people openly wept.

“Would anyone like to say something?” I asked.

The elderly man looked up, raised a shaky finger, and spoke. His quiet words trailed off into space. “Sixty-five years… Diabetes… A year ago… Nursing home.”

His eyes were wet and his lips quivered. I wanted to hear his words, but couldn’t. I asked him to repeat them. I leaned toward him, but couldn’t read his trembling lips.

“Will someone help us?” I asked. “Pretend I don’t know the language. This is the way deafness can be. I recognize a few words and miss the meaning, so I need a translator.”

“I’ll help,” a woman said, and moved close to us.

Naomi Shihab Nye, by Micahd, CC BY-SA 3.0,

“Please begin again,” I asked the gentleman.

I sat knee-to-knee with him. My eyes were locked on his. He watched me as he spoke. Everyone leaned toward us to listen. After each sentence, the woman repeated his words. He nodded and watched as I looked up to read her lips and hear her clear voice.

“My wife died a year ago,” she translated. “We were married sixty-six years. She had diabetes, but the best thing is I took care of her. I was able to take care of her at home.”

I looked into his eyes. He smiled.

“You must be lonely after all those years together,” I said.

“Yes, but I’m grateful she died at home. My family was grateful, too,” he said. “It was the best thing I could give her.“ The man nodded yes. Tears rolled down the deep furrows of his cheeks.

“You gave your wife the ultimate gift of love,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “I’m so glad I could do it. That’s the important thing. I took care of her.”

There we were, human and naked in our sorrow, our frailty and deafness, old age and loneliness. There we were, swimming in love, gratitude and grace.


Naomi Shihab Nye, “Kindness,” Words under the Words (Portland, Oregon: Eight Mountain Press, 1995), 42-43 (With permission from the author). An earlier version of this article was published by Grateful Living ( in 2015.

This Thanksgiving, we desperately need kindness and hope. How will kindness soften your life and help you remember what matters this week? For other posts about supporting each other during grief, see How to Create a Sacred Grief Ritual Many Years after a Loss. For another post about the power of this poem to transform a crisis, see When Only Kindness Makes Sense.


  1. December 1, 2023 at 8:04 am

    susan scott


    so beautifully touching Elaine, thank you. Moments of Grace which melted my heart which often feels numbed at all that is happening.

    1. December 1, 2023 at 12:25 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Susan. The world feels brutal, so I found it helpful to remember the small moments of kindness. If you haven’t read it, You might enjoy Naomi Shihab Nye’s short article about how this poem came to her in a moment of crisis. You’ll find her story in The Marginanian:
      May there be love and peace in this suffering world.

  2. November 28, 2023 at 8:42 pm



    Dear Elaine, somehow you managed to transport me to that reading you gave in the library eight years ago, where the open-hearted, fearless man moved to the back row. I could feel myself reaching in my pocket for a cough drop for him, and felt almost as though I was the translator as you sat knee-to-knew with him in deep listening. I love him, too.

    After reading your book, I memorized Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem so that I, too, always carry it with me. And it’s one of the poems I say in prayer each night before I go to sleep. So many gifts to be grateful for. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    1. November 30, 2023 at 3:04 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, dear Anne. I hope this gentleman’s family took care of him the way he took care of his wife. Also thanks for telling me you memorized Naomi’s poem so now it “goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.” Naomi could have asked for thousands to use her poem, but she wanted nothing. What a heart! May we all learn such kindnessfrom her. Sending blessings your way.

  3. November 25, 2023 at 8:00 am



    I so appreciate you highlighting kindness, this powerful inherent aspect of ourselves that easily gets veiled by fears and other preoccupations.
    The poem, Kindness, struck a chord with me when I first read it and now the words around knowing sorrow deeply giving rise to kindness makes a lot of sense from your kind and gentle encounter with the elderly man.
    Our online daily meditation this last week was around the theme of , May I be kind to Myself”. With practice, the words have been popping up like a mantra in the place of a reaction to the discomfort arising within.
    Thank you for all that you share – always feel instantly grounded in Truth and nature.

    1. November 25, 2023 at 2:29 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks for your lovely comment, Patricia. Kindness seems more important than ever in the last few years when rudness and anger are rewarded in political realms. And then there is war and all the cruelty inherent in that. May there be peace and love in our struggling world–and may we remember to be kind to ourselves as well as to others.

  4. November 22, 2023 at 9:29 am

    Jean Raffa


    Beautiful. And so appropriate for Thanksgiving. May we offer kindness and hope to those we travel with, and strangers along the way. Love, Jeanie

    1. November 22, 2023 at 10:52 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Jeanie, this has been a favorite poem for a long time and it matters that the author is half Palestinian. If you haven’t read her story of receiving the poem at a moment of extreme vulnerability, you might love this:

      Thanksgiving blessings to you and your family. With love from the north country where we still don’t have snow.

  5. November 22, 2023 at 9:15 am

    Marian Beaman


    What a beautiful reflection, Elaine. And how kind to connect to a soul reaching out in quiet desperation. I am somewhat familiar with Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, having used a line once in a previous blog post.

    The poet also says, “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
    you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.” I believe you know kindness from both ends of the spectrum, if that makes sense. Deep kindness and deep sorrow.

    Here’s to experiencing love, gratitude, and grace this Thanksgiving season. Hope too! 😀

    1. November 22, 2023 at 10:48 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      That makes sense, Marian. I often read Naomi’s poem when I gave readings and experience the sorrow and the kindness. Vic first used her poem to end his last book with Naomi’s permission. She is SO generous with her poems. May you have love, delicious food, and peace for Thanksgiving. Blessings to you and your family.

  6. November 22, 2023 at 6:40 am

    Aladin Fazel


    This touching story deeply moves me. You surely can imagine how I am trying to keep this promise these days and how challenging it is for me. It is a traditional Thanksgiving there in the US. We haven’t it here, but I like celebrating such kindhearted events. Thank you, dear Elaine, for sharing this instructive and wise story.

    1. November 22, 2023 at 10:44 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I can imagine how hard the violence of this time is for you, Aladin. Thanksgiving is beautiful like a holiday greeting card, but what we did to the indigenous people is horrifying and hasn’t ended yet. Still, it’s good to gather for a feast of Thanksgiving after the autumn harvest, so I love that part when I let go of the actual historical events. The elderly man at my reading was truly fearless in the way he showed his feelings and love. Everyone was deeply moved. May we have peace.

  7. November 21, 2023 at 10:04 pm

    Myra Berkowitz


    Thank you, Elaine. So beautiful, both your words and Naomi’s. And those of the dear gentleman in the library, who attended a program in order to share his feelings with others in grief. It is such a gift to open our hearts and shed tears together. You brought this story alive to us readers, and I am grateful. I almost feel I was there.
    Giving thanks on this holiday of thanks-giving.
    Love, Myra

    1. November 22, 2023 at 10:40 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I loved this elder man, Myra. He opened my heart and the hearts of everyone there. It’s rare to have someone be so open with their feelings in a room of strangers and I could imagine how sweet he was with his wife. May we all give thanks and find peace in this angry times.

  8. November 21, 2023 at 8:35 pm

    Jill Swenson


    This one made me tear up. Thank you for sharing Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem. It’s a favorite of mine. And this memory is all about leaning into love.

    1. November 22, 2023 at 10:38 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I’ve loved her poem for a long time and never get tired of it or feel I’ve fully absorbed it. You’ve probably read Naomi’s story of receiving the poem in a moment of vulnerability:

  9. November 21, 2023 at 12:02 pm

    Deborah Gregory


    What a beautiful, heartfelt story, thank you so much Elaine for sharing what happened at your recent book reading. I loved hearing how you sat with this elderly gentleman, knee-to-knee, while you listened to his story. Every detail from the given cough sweet to received offers of help, warmed my heart. I’ve recommend your wonderful book, ‘Leaning into Love’ to many of my clients over the years. I say to them, Elaine Mansfield, a dear, kind and loving friend of mine, has written a book that may interest and help you.

    I agree, kindness is the ultimate gift, one that we can give others and ourselves. In fact if I hadn’t started being kind to myself back in my thirties, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to be so kind to others, today. Like all things I’m slowly realising that the gift of kindness has to ‘given and received’ in all ways, above and below, within and without. It’s lovely to see the photo of your grandfather too, it helps me to imagine the scene and picture the old farmer with his furrowed face, wet with tears.

    1. November 22, 2023 at 10:33 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I wrote this version of that night recently, but the reading was in 2015. I’ll never forget the sweet feelings of the elderly farmer and his willingness to show his grief. He had a strong impact on everyone there. He helped me work for a creative solution and ask for help. Thank you for recommending my book, dear Deborah.

      I’m not always good at being kind to myself, but I’m practicing the art of gentleness toward my own frailties and grief. Sending you love as the days grow shorter and much cooler here with no snow which is unusual for mid November here. Peace and love to you, Lin, and the whole world.

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