Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

”Shoulders” by Naomi Shihab Nye[1]

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.
No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.
This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.
We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.
The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

In a world where might makes right, Nye offers a compelling image as an alternative: a man caring intensely for a child while performing a normal, everyday action. “We’re not going to be able/ to make it in this world/ if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing/ with one another,” she says.

The importance of the kind of daily, mundane, fine-grained care this man offers is a compelling alternative to the ways of the world. His work cannot be scaled. It must be done one child at a time, one street crossing at a time. And the meaning of the work is found in the doing of it, as the boy’s dream echoes inside him.

For Reflection: Consider those places in your neighborhood where the slow, gentle work of “crossing a street” together is needed. How can you embody the patient care that will help us all to live in this world?

[1] Naomi Shihab Nye, “Shoulders” from Red Suitcase. Copyright © 1994 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

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