The Natal people of South Africa greet each other saying, “sawubona”, here you are, to which the response is “sikona”, I am here. What a simple and yet powerful acknowledgement of each other’s humanity in this moment. In Power of Kindness, Italian psychologist Piero Ferruci suggests we are experiencing an Ice Age of the heart. I’ve never witnessed anything colder than the Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. The callous indifference to Floyd’s life is heartbreaking. The outrage that followed is alarming but cannot be ignored. Here you are. I am here.
The Ancient Aztecs considered humans to be born without a face. Only by honoring truth does the face develop features. If we choose deception or denial instead, the face will remain formless. The authentic face is formed slowly over time. Bit by bit. What does the face of our nation look like? The truth of who we are with wrenching inequalities and systemic racism must come forth for America to emerge from what the Aztecs called Tlalticpac, the world of dreams. The American dream. Here you are. I am here.
And then there is the coronavirus with more than 100,000 dead. Often called the invisible enemy, it is treacherous, cunning, and predatory on the least of these. More than ever we need a social pact. “I protect you. You protect me.” In a recent New Yorker article, author and surgeon Atul Gawande used this phrase to explain why mask wearing protects the other because you might be an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19. You don’t skip wearing a mask because you’re young, invincible, skeptical of how big a deal this really is. You wear a mask because you care about others. It is a visible reminder that we’re all in this together. It’s like wearing an invisible sign, “I wish you well.” Just as I receive that same message when I see you wearing a mask – a mask that makes breathing a little harder, communicating a little muffled, and living a lot abnormal. Things are not normal and it impossible to know when they will be. Here you are. I am here.
Finally, I return to what will keep us strong for the challenges ahead big and small. Sometimes we can steady ourselves with surrendering to what is, something altogether different from resignation or giving up. Attributed to American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, the prayer has become a familiar reminder:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Here you are. I am here.