Category Archives: Kindness

Front Corner Pew

Church can be a welcoming, joyful experience or a lonely, isolating experience, depending on from where one is coming and to where one is going, and on one’s frame of mind along the way.  This poem shares one perspective, where the influence of little children and of love make all the difference.  That I could do for someone what they did for me–that is a wish.

Front Corner Pew

the front corner pew
is least conspicuous for one
who desires to be both

faithful and unseen, for the pastor
looks long across the harvest
to who occupies the back

corner chair signaling
I am broken and belligerent, but here
where the hard metal numbs

the mind, the Good News
half heard across the distance
and having given both ample chance

I had chosen to sit unseen
alone on the front corner pew
when a father marched by

with his three fidgety lambs
who looked at me and relaxed their faces and uncrossed their arms
to each smile and wave

at me
and incapable of resisting I
twitched a smile

and convulsed little waves
in return
and wondered how

something so soft
could chisel stone
and without excoriation

alter me forever
though they were quickly gone
through the chapel side door

Image by ddzphoto from Pixabay

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

That Man

Grand Teton from Table Mountain, by Caleb Baker

Sitting in church I noticed a rough-looking man handling his three little boys with patience and kindness and gentleness.  He inspired me, and I felt filled with gratitude for the method of this man.  Those boys will know they are loved, that they matter.  Those boys will learn that kindness is the way of true manhood as they marry and raise their own children in turn.  My wish and prayer is for kindness to find ever more-frequent expression in this world.

THAT MAN

that man
over there
who ruffles one boy’s strawberry hair
and pats the older gently on the back
and kisses the littlest on top the head and whispers in his ear and smiles,
that man
will raise prophets
and kings
with his kindness

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure and magical farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Sphere of Absence

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Sphere of Absence by Erin Frances Baker

I exited a posh downtown law firm revolving door to accompany several high-priced litigators to lunch.  As a municipal attorney, my city was their client, and I its representative.  Hundreds of people walked every which way, moving single-mindedly toward their various destinations.  Car horns honked.  Crosswalk lights chirped.  People talked animatedly.  Buses dieseled by.  Trolley car power cables sizzled.  On the corner, in the middle of the commotion, sat a homeless woman, dirty, dressed in rags, her hair ratty.  She sat and rocked and wailed inconsolably.  No one paid her any mind.  They merely arced around her from their many directions, creating a sphere of absence around her.  I approached her, but not too close, to see her better.  I ached for her, yet feared to enter that intimidating sphere.  I marveled that she remained invisible to the bustling world around her. Still, though I saw her and felt for her, I too arced clear and moved on to my worldly business.  Below is my poem describing the encounter, entitled “Sphere of Absence.”

My daughter, Erin Frances Baker, adapted my poem for her acrylic-on-board masterpiece, changing the character of my homeless woman to the lighter, but still isolated and nearly invisible, figure of a street performer.  I hope you enjoy the poem and the painting.

SPHERE OF ABSENCE

She sat on the corner
of a bustling city street:
a surreal reminder
of an unfriendly reality;
a sad black-and-white cutout,
pasted, out of place,
into the noisy, colorful hustle
of illusory pursuits.
Mute faces ate and laughed
behind thick glass panes;
wingtips and heels stepped past
in all directions,
carving a polygonal sphere,
untouched, unvisited,
seen but ignored, unknown.
Unknowable.
Above the train-wheel grind and clatter,
the honking horns,
the crosswalk chirps,
the biting wind,
and the chatter, rose
a soft, wailing cry,
a muffled desperation,
a distracted pouring-out
of a fractured soul
into the lonely sphere of absence.

 

My book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road, has recently been published in print and for Kindle.  You can read about it here.

Grooves

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I have just learned that another friend–a lovely, talented woman–has suffered decades of control and disdain from her husband.  Is it simply human nature to be boorish?  I don’t buy it. Life need not be such a slog.  Every man, woman, and child on this planet can learn to be more kind and caring, more loving and forgiving, more outward viewing.  Sure, it takes a little effort, a little discipline.  The ultimate means of assuring our own success is to contribute to the success of those around us, not to tear them down.  What will I (and you) do today to build another up? What connection do you see between this note and my poem “Grooves” below?

GROOVES

Our two lives
have worn two grooves
in our sagging mattress,
two trenches
where we have lain
side by side
through the battles.
I would that there were
no grooves at all,
or only one.
So much that
a new, level mattress
could not erase or replace.
As moonbeams glow
on the frozen snow,
I lay and listen
to the woman
in the sunken space
next to mine.

Songbird

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Photo by Liddy Mills

My friend Elizabeth found an injured bird yesterday, a European Starling, and took it in.  Many people think of Starlings as junk birds.  I know of farmers who pay boys to kill as many as they can.  But Elizabeth took it in.  She fed it, watered it, and wrapped it in cloth.  Elizabeth named it Songbird.  She sang to Songbird, and, as she sang, Songbird fluffed its feathers and watched her.  She placed Songbird on a bed of straw, but the bird kept trying to come to her as she sang. “I held him as he took his last breath,” Elizabeth sadly recounted.  “I hope he understood that some of us humans care.”  She buried Songbird in the yard today, on the Sabbath.  “Songbird deserved a burial,” she said.  Elizabeth’s caring heart touched mine, and I wrote this poem, near midnight.

SONGBIRD

I crashed
and lay crumpled
in your townhouse yard.

You scooped me up
and sang to me
a song.

“Hello Songbird.”

You cradled me in a cloth
and stroked my feathered head.

Sing to me
          a song.

You watered me
and laid me in a bed of straw.

Sing to me
          a song.

You kept the cats
away.

Sing to me
          a song.

You cried when I died,
and you buried me
in your townhouse yard.

You sang to me
a song.

For another story about trying to save an injured bird, see Chapter 37: Of Caterpillars and Birds at my blog page Rabbit Lane: Memoir.

Picking Up Nails

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Over the years I have made a habit of picking up nails, screws, bolts, and other sharp metal bits from the streets and gutters as I walk during my lunch break.  I like to think that if I pick up this one nail, I will save someone the trouble of a punctured car tire.  I hope that, in turn, the driver is spared the cascade of negative emotions that might otherwise radiate out into his world.  None the wiser for being saved this trouble, I hope that the driver will be more inclined toward kindness and gentleness.  The pictured jar is full of the nails and screws I have picked up on my walks.  I am filling a second jar.

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As an assistant scoutmaster for a Boy Scout National Jamboree troop, both in 2013 and 2017, my Council contingent leader, Craig, gave me and the other scoutmasters a Jamboree medallion.  He challenged us to carry it in out pocket every day to remind us of the Scout Slogan: Do a Good Turn Daily.  Putting the coin in my pocket each morning starts the challenge. Feeling the coin in my pocket all day long is my constant reminder to be kind.  Retiring it at night gives me the opportunity for reflection upon my deeds and the state of my heart.  Even if it was just a smile, I have done my good turn.  I resolutely believe that a simple smile, or a picked up nail, can improve our world.  I hope you enjoy this poem.  Pick up a nail today.

I PICKED UP A NAIL

I picked up a nail
from the street I walked upon,
and changed the world:
a tire will remain inflated;
a vehicle will stay true to its course;
a curse will remain unuttered;
a hand will find restraint;
a smile will grace one’s face;
a prayer, at day’s end, will still ascend;
a heart will incline to humble gratitude;
a child will feel the gentleness of a father’s forehead kiss;
a child will hear the soft tones of a mother’s good-night wish.
I always pick up nails
from the streets I walk upon.

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Me at the 2013 Jamboree.

I Waited for You

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Some of us wait silently to be loved, wait expectantly for our needs to be met.  Others of us demand to be loved with stomping feet and a sharp tongue.  The fortunate among us have learned to express their needs in ways that the listener understands, respects, and responds.  We are all different in how we approach life and love, yet we all want and deserve love.  My hope is that, rather than waiting for love or demanding love, we will learn to seek love in healthy, positive ways.  Beyond this, my prayer is that we will first offer love and kindness to others, thus inviting love and kindness to come back to us.

This poem personalizes one seemingly ill-fated approach to finding love.  What do you think the poem’s speaker could have done differently?  Should the speaker have done anything differently?  Was the speaker’s approach unreasonable?  Consider posting your answer in the comment section below.

I WAITED FOR YOU

I waited for you:
Waited for you to come to me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like the crimson clouds after the tired sun drops behind the mountains.
When you came to me at last,
I had faded and gone.

I waited for you:
Waited for you to touch me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like a dry, dusty leaf under a charcoal sky when the soothing rain won’t fall.
When you reached for me at last,
I had withered and gone.

I waited for you:
Waited for you to smile at me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like a famished infant yearning to suck from her mother’s ripe, fragrant breast.
When you smiled at me at last,
I had drifted and gone.

Chapter 43: Trees

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–Boogers are sticky!–
(Hannah-3)

Dead and dying poplars stand along the ditch bank on Rabbit Lane, like sentries propped up against battles long ago lost and won.  Many branches, devoid of leaves, poke absently out and up like ten thousand fingers on stubby arms.  On the oldest, the only leaves huddle close to the trunk, near the base.  Finches and sparrows hop happily amidst the morass for some purpose unknown to me, or for no purpose.  Their nests lie hidden somewhere in dense bushes; no seeds or insects can be found in the spiky tree stubble.  But safety from cats and falcons the branches certainly provide. Continue reading

Chapter 36: Shirley and Lucille

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–Please help us to not be mean.–
(Hannah-3 to God.)

Lucille, in her 80s, still lived in the tiny clapboard shack in which she had birthed her children, surrounded by her family’s historic grain fields, next to the small brick house in which she herself had been born.  The shack’s “facilities” were to be found in a one-seater outhouse 30 feet behind the house.  One very cold morning after an even colder night, a neighbor found her sprawled on the icy ground, her body frozen.  She must have slipped or tripped returning from the outhouse, was unable to get herself up from the ground, and slowly went to sleep as the overpowering cold seeped into her warm body.  Continue reading

Chapter 32: Snow Angel

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–Sweetness: that which induces a slow rolling of the tongue, a gentle closing of the eyes,
and an escape from the lips of a sensuous, sighing, “ahh.”–

Two young girls rode their bicycles down Church Road coming from the direction of Rabbit Lane.  Working in the yard, I looked up just as one bicycle, ridden by the younger girl, slid on a gravelly patch, and she fell face forward onto the asphalt.  I ran toward the crying girl, about six years old, with my concerned children following close behind.  Blood oozed from abrasions on the girl’s knee and elbow and cheek, and a tooth was broken. Continue reading

Chapter 30: Good-Bye Harv

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–To change the world, we must first change ourselves.–

Harvey had to leave.  He lost everything he owned.  He moved out to the West Desert to live with a mountain man friend who lives in a teepee.  He said he would do fine, but worried about staying warm enough and getting enough to eat in the freezing winters.  I worried for him, too.  I did what I could to help Harvey, examining legal documents, but it was too late. Continue reading

Across the Day

Each morning as I leave for work I cross paths with my children.  They each require a hug (or two or three) as I run out the door.  I am often late and anxious to get away.  Sometimes I protest, “Just let me go, guys” or “You already hugged me once” or “I’m just going to work.”  When I slow down and live more mindfully, I stop and put my briefcase on the floor to give them a genuine embrace and a smile and a kind word, perhaps “I love you” or “Have a great day”.  If I really pay attention to these moments of connection, I notice a subtle but distinct feeling of goodness and happiness, a sense that something in life has changed for the better.  This poem is about one of those moments when I suppressed my natural tendency to hurry on to the next task and allowed myself to slow down and see what really needing doing.  See the related Chapter 12: Worm Sign post of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.

ACROSS THE DAY

Down the stairs he stepped,
pulling up a pant leg
to expose to me
yesterday’s skinned knee
and today’s unabashed want
for tenderness.
“It still hurts,” he whimpered
as I flew toward the door
with my briefcase and bagel.
“And you forgot.”
With guilty remembrance, I stopped
and lifted him to a counter top.
With guilty haste I rummaged through a drawer
for a bandage and soothing ointment.
“It feels better already,” he sighed,
his smile following me
out the door, down the highway,
and across the day.

Chapter 12: Worm Sign

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–A sincere smile can change the world.–

The night’s rains have turned the hard-packed-dirt surface of Rabbit Lane into a thin slick of mud, with small pools in the valleys between washboard peaks.  Long earthworms, flushed from their deluged burrows, make their tedious way across the muddy film, seeming to wander without any sense of where they need to go.  Slight worm tracks criss-cross the slick: shallow smooth ruts, their directions and intersections chaotic, random, crossing over and following each other without discernible pattern.  They leave only faint signs of their humble existence. Continue reading

Chapter 11: Austin

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–The measure of one’s greatness is one’s goodness.–

Sitting on the porch lacing my boots for a walk on Rabbit Lane, I heard the distant bellowing of a distressed calf.  Something in the bray was not quite right, sounded a little off.  I had heard lost calves calling for their mothers before.  I had heard desperately hungry calves complaining before.  I had heard lonely wiener calves bellowing for their removed mothers before.  This calf call sounded strange; perhaps, I thought, not even a calf at all.  I turned my head to pinpoint the source of the noise.  It came from behind Austin’s house, where there should be no cows and, in fact, were no cows.  An ignorant urgency sent me running through the intervening field to Austin’s back door.  There lay Austin, helpless, in abject distress, fallen across the threshold of his back door and unable to arise, the screen door pressing upon his legs.  He shouted and bellowed with his deep and distressed bass voice.  I wrapped my arms around his prodigious barrel chest and heaved as gently yet as forcefully as I could to raise the big man from the ground. Continue reading

These Hands

Hands are the perfect metaphor for who we are, what we do, and what we hope to become.  Do I use my hands to lift or to strike down, to caress or to punish, to persuade or to coerce?  My hands with their fingers type the words formed in my mind, spoon soup for a grandmother, and tickle a toddler.  Hands.  Use them for kindness, gentleness, hard work, and love.  And to write a poem.

THESE HANDS

Look at these hands.
My hands.
They tell my life:
in groove and scar and callous;
in a knuckle torn by a chicken house nail;
in railroad lines from a childhood race through a glass door;
in black grease ground into coarse cracks and cuticles;
in blisters and blood on a westward handcart;
at times, thrust hiding in deep but empty pockets.
These hands:
that hold the hopes and dreams of a self-hewn future;
that have sought the secret softness of a soul mate;
that have led trusting toddlers over perilous paths;
that hoisted an enduring ancient from the place of his collapse.
These hands:
that have clasped tightly together in impassioned prayer;
that have suffered the sad sting of punishment;
that have bathed the infant and dressed the dead;
that have hooked a worm and thrown a ball.
These hands:
that have penned a paltry poem;
that have reached for the stars and grasped only earth;
that have blessed the sick and slaughtered swine;
that can seal a man’s fate with a waive and a gavel’s rap.
These hands:
that spared the rod, soothed a crying child, wiped away a tear, smoothed a stray lock;
that once were tiny and tender, that patted Grandpa’s drooping cheeks;
that bestowed a ring and received one in return;
that now are old and gnarled, resting folded and futile in my lap.
Touch my hands with your hands.
Bring my hands to your face, your eyes, your lips.
Feel the coarseness and tenderness of my hands.
Bring your hands to my face, my eyes, my lips.

 

Chapter 6: Harvey

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–Small acts of kindness soften the soul.–

“Let’s go over to Harvey’s,” I suggested one Sunday afternoon soon after moving to the country house.

“Who’s Harvey?” asked Brian (8).

“Harvey is our neighbor,” I explained.  “You’ll like his place.  He has lots of animals.”

We walked down Church Road toward Rabbit Lane, past Russell’s arena, and turned up the dirt drive to Harvey’s log-sided house.  No one answered my knock at the door, but I thought it would be alright if we looked around at Harvey’s animals.  We smelled the animals before we saw them: skunk.  No doubt about it.  A wrinkled, water-stained sign wired to the cage read, Stay Away. Continue reading

Rita

Bill and Rita Stenner knew I loved small boat sailing.  I learned to sail small cat boats as a Boy Scout at Camp Liahona on Lake Seneca in up-state New York.  Of all my 35 Boy Scout merit badges, small boat sailing was my favorite.  Bill invited me to sail with him and Rita in his 19-foot sloop several times over several summers.  We put in at Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, and tacked toward the Hudson Bay, with the Twin Towers shooting above the barely-visible land of Manhattan Island.  Rita suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis, and sat crumpled and twisted in a wheelchair.  But floating in the water behind the cruising sloop freed her from her confinement.  She never complained in the chair, but she exulted from within the cool salt water as I steered and called “coming about!”  This poem, “Rita,” I wrote some 30 years later in reverent memory of these good, kind, quiet people.  Thanks Rita and Bill.  (See the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse post, for reference to sailing with Bill and Rita.)

RITA

The old man was kind to me,
though I offered nothing but my youthful company,
which I made pleasant, for my gratitude,
on those summer days.

How we sailed!

From Sandy Hook toward Hudson’s kills,
Twin Towers rising like brother beacons
beckoning us to tack their way,
I on the rudder,
Bill on the main sheet and jib.

Oh—how we sailed!

He tethered his wife,
a cheerful lump of rheumatoid flesh,
and tossed her offhandedly overboard,
whence she giggled and squealed
for the cool and the salt, the jostling wake,
for her release from the chair.

Sailing in the salt breeze!

Ponderous thunderheads darkened abruptly,
and we hauled her in
like a troll-caught crab
and fled the flashes, knowing
how tall and conductive was the metal mast
and how helpless we would be
on the water.