By Miller Williams
Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don't want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.
Although I have been a fan of singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams for years, I was unaware that she was the daughter of poet Miller Williams. While he may not be quite as well known as his daughter (who is not exactly a household name, either), Williams led an extraordinary life; mentored by no less than Flannery O'Connor, served as professor emeritus of literature at the University of Arkansas, and read his poem, "Of History and Hope" during President Bill Clinton's 1997 inauguration. Miller Williams passed away at the beginning of this new year on Jan 1st.
"Compassion" is a stark, simple poem, but the simplicity of the poem-only six lines-speaks directly to the simplicity of the message of the poem, which is, of course, to be compassionate to "everyone you meet". While the message may be simple, the action of being compassionate is too often fumbled or frustrated by the mounting pressures of every day life. We are stumbling along, trying to do right by ourselves and our loved ones and feel frustrated when other beings with outside interests get in the way. Whether this means being forced to slip past a group of four walking side by side on the sidewalk as you rush to get to class on time or choking on the resentment you feel at work after being passed up for a promotion, it is an easy enough thing to let your anger boil up onto the surface and blow up at al of those who get in your way. But, as Williams says, we don't know what wars are going on "where the spirit meets the bone."
And as a bonus, here is Lucinda Williams singing the adaptation of her father's poem in her signature, smoky drawl: