You were a stranger. You were dark and brief. And I am humbled by the size of your grief. – Sherman Alexi
The line above is from Valediction by Sherman Alexi, published in The Best American Poetry 2011, edited by David Lehman and Kevin Young. It is the close of a dark and beautiful farewell to someone who has committed suicide. The poem quotes Chekhov and attempts to convince the self-destructive one that all dark times are the same. This dark time is no worse than any other dark time. The poet loses the argument.
This poem made me think about the people we come in contact with each day, family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. We don’t know what they are going through or how they are dealing with their sorrow. We don’t know what they are holding inside or whether they have been accumulating pain for years, pain that keeps growing darker and heavier. Would it hurt us to look every person in the eye and speak to them courteously, treating them with dignity.
If they are open to more than hello, we could sincerely ask them how they are and then listen. This would apply to the minimum wage worker behind the counter as well as family and friends, perhaps even more especially to older ones who may feel neglected. When someone makes a mistake we could be patient. Usually nobody feels worse about a slip-up than the person who committed it. We may never know what good effect our patience and kindness works on others or who may look forward to encountering us again, but you could secretly become somebody else’s favorite person and the brightest light in their life.