March 19, 2011
In parts of Africa when meeting an individual the conventional greeting is “I see you,” and the proper response is, in turn, “I am here.” There is an implicit recognition in this social exchange of a fundamental truth of our human existence: we experience who we are in the context of recognition by others.
In the celebration of a milestone birthday, I have experienced myself as “seen” this week by many friends and family, and I am deeply grateful. I know that I am here in this place at this time of life because of those who have seen me—and (seeing) forgiven me; who have seen me—and (seeing) extended the generous grace of believing in me; who have seen me—and (seeing my need) shared their wisdom, fellowship, and resources along the journey. I am here because I have been seen. There is no way to say my gratitude for these acts of knowing and the becoming it has made possible.
A young friend has taught me an African word, Unbuntu. As I understand it, the word means in my paraphrase, “I am because we are.”
I think that the idea of a “self-made” individual is a psychological delusion and a theological absurdity. Love and grace and acknowledgement of my individual being have been extended to me life-long through friends and family, and through strangers and enemies as well. What I have done with these gifts (some bitter-sweet) is indeed my responsibility, for better and/or for worse.
But unbuntu, my friends. Within my human limitations I have sought to become strong and deeply rooted in faith and practice through the love, grace and friendship you have invested in my life. From my perspective on this birthday, God has, in turn, multiplied your gift into life-sustaining abundance for me.
See you next week, a year older. Maybe wiser?
Seeking in these remaining years to pay forward in rich measure the treasures with which I have been gifted over the passing years.