by Ryan Dalton
What is with our obsessive, poisonous, malignant, self-loathing, destructive, unhealthy, fatal love affair with violence? Can we break it off, please?
Patiently waiting for your response,
What is with our obsessive, poisonous, malignant, self-loathing, destructive, unhealthy, fatal love affair with violence? Can we break it off, please?
Patiently waiting for your response,
It was so wonderful to receive your letter! It does me well to hear that you have understood the necessity of this season, no matter how difficult or trying it may be, even if the fullness of the necessity has yet to reveal itself. What resonates in both of our experiences is how hard it is to live somewhere when you have left your heart elsewhere. Unquestionably difficult! I also, very frequently at that, think of the time spent with you and your family (our family) in Nashville during my time in Tennessee. Those weekends I spent in Nashville were bursts of light in a fairly dark time for me; but let me not be too dramatic, for it was most certainly not all doom and gloom.
The stick analogy in your letter really spoke to me and provoked some interesting thought:
“I aimed at being intentional in building thriving friendships; trying to gather sticks from under the tree, intent on building a raft that could carry me through this season. I found those sticks only useful for fire to keep me warm in those moments. I learned quickly the differences between hanging out and spending time with brothers.”
I too can relate to wanting more out of relationships than the intermittent “coffee shop buddy” you spoke of, providing warmth for only the moment, and if that. In retrospect to when I first moved back to the States, at the time, I really felt like the average conversation I had with the average person did not scratch the surface — the surface of what I was feeling, or anything genuine, or what I perceived as “real life” in general. The typical conversation would jump from the latest celebrity scandal, to a game of a particular team of whatever sport was in season, to whatever was happening on the popular sitcom of the day, to the most recent Youtube video that went viral, to the autotuned version of the most recent Youtube video that went viral; most of which was like a foreign language to me.
On a side note, I think another form of pseudo-sharing that occurs in our celebrity-obsessed, entertainment-addicted culture is the overwhelming level of investment so many people have in the lives of famous people. What if, as a culture, we spent that level of time and energy and investment in our actual relationships with actual people around us? But that is possibly another subject for another day.
Back to the conversations…
I was uninterested in, or could not relate to, most of the above mentioned topics, though the Youtube videos were usually entertaining. And it sometimes felt like I was having carbon copies of the same conversation, over and over and over again; smalltalk is great as an appetizer to the conversation, but it cannot give subsistence and sustain as the main course, meal after meal after meal. Simultaneously, during those conversations, I recurrently felt like people were looking at me, but not really seeing me. I know that sounds odd. But all I truly wanted, from the bottom of my heart, was to cut past the superficial surface and bleed out conversationally.
I occasionally experienced that too, and those conversations were cathartic.
However, revisiting your stick analogy, I have, as it seems you also have, realized the importance of seeking far more than to merely be kept warm, or even to be carried by a raft built from other metaphorical sticks; lest we forget that we are also sticks, with the ability to serve a purpose in the lives of others. The spirit of Ubuntu is not satisfied with solely feeding into our individual needs, with no personal responsibility to give back. Rather, true community is when we gather the sticks around us, our stick-selves included, and build a home of mutualism and sodality, a place where we can all hold up one another and be held up, support each other and be supported; and I know you know this type of communion, as you speak of it so fondly in reference to your time in Johannesburg.
Every stick might not be able to hold the same weight or provide the same level of stability, but linked together as one, they collectively provide shelter, a home, community, Ubuntu.
You ask how’s Brooklyn? Extraordinary! As a matter of fact, I have managed to build a beautifully diverse “stick-home,” with “sticks” being added by the day. Let me count a few…
My apartment door is a revolving door, with daily visitors of all ages.
Friends and neighbors stop by unannounced, more often than “expected” visitors, at that.
My across-the-hall neighbors’ microwave broke, so they come over to use mine.
My neighbors often share their food with me, and I share mine with them.
I help the neighbor kids with their homework.
My way-across-the-hall neighbors look out for the UPS man and hold my packages when he comes when I am at work.
I bake cupcakes with my twelve-year-old neighbor.
My young neighbors sometimes bring me presents, and very often bring youthful conversation.
My colleague-turned-friend, who also happens to be a neighbor, comes over and we sit like two grannies, sipping hot tea, speaking about the problems with the American education system, the need for community, these “kids of today”, or other dilemmas of the world that seem to be so fixable in those moments.
I read books with my four-year-old neighbor.
We all joke and laugh and live together.
I assure you, those are simply a few glimpses into my life here, and I could tell you story after story, for days and days, but the summary of all of those stories is: I am happy, loved, loving, and content. I would love for you to visit Brooklyn someday, to see this “stick-home” for yourself. Again, please send my love to Woodie and the nephews; I really miss watching all of their sports games! As usual, let me know about any signs of Ubuntu you encounter in your day-to-day. Stay well!
Love from my Brooklyn stick-home,
I trust we all made it through the reign of the “Monster Moon”, though obviously, and naturally, some of us did not, but that is most likely of no fault to the moon, and more just a testimony to the never ending cycle of life and death that we are daily faced with.
Speaking of death, we have rockets pointed at one another.
This development has many people living in fear, panic even. I am not scared. Humans have sadly been trying to obliterate other humans off the face of the earth, for various different reasons, since the beginning of time. Having said that, I must make note of the immediate response of many people I have seen: something like, “They have rockets pointed at US?! LET’S BLOW THEM TO SMITHEREENS!”
This is all so tiring, really.
I know I am a dreamer of sorts, but what if, with rockets pointed at us, we decided to humbly extend love, kindness, and humanity to the rocket-weilders, until they decided to lower the rockets. I just heard your laughter. Nonetheless, as insane as this sounds, it is no different to the actions of Gandhi and Dr. King and Mandela and other pacifists who were faced with violence but dead set on peace; yes, I realize the pun. And in the chance they decide not to lower the rockets, blasting us off of earth’s edifice, would we not go out as happier, less angry, less fearful, more peaceful people? I don’t want to exit this life as a ball of fear-and-hate-and-anger-filled flesh.
This seeming inherent desire that we have to annihilate each other is very disturbing to me. Surely I am not alone in this. As a matter of fact, I know I am not. Will you let me know if you are with me in this?
Well, in the tragic case that we never speak again, I do love you.
Peace to us,
I hope this letter finds you in a moment of rest amidst your busy schedule. I think it is hilarious, wonderful, and bizarre how well I feel I know you, even though we have only physically been in the same room a handful of times. I guess that boasts in the positive inverse of the pseudo-sharing I spoke about in my letter to James, since most of our many interactions have been of the cyber nature.
However, I will never forget the fun and hospitality of the first time Cirvant and I were invited over to your house for a lovely grilled cheese dinner; instantaneous offerings of drinks, hand-made-and-facilitated games with the kids, good food, great conversation, tears (mostly yours) over the Wikipedia page of a story of an Amish community’s forgiveness, and much laughter, amusement, and deep sharing; Ubuntu in its purest form.
And after hours and hours of terrific communion, and several mentions by all parties how it was, “probably time for us to go,” around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, Cirvant and I were on the edge of our seats about to stand to leave, and right there, from your sprawled-out-flat-on-your-back-on-the-carpet position, with your eyes closed, you sighed a weighty sigh and said, “Alright. But one more thing before you go…What is your take on the war in Iraq?” The laughter in the room was probably amplified more by the fact that we could all tell that you were absolutely sincere in your query. That memory will surely stay with me forever.
Anyhow. I’ve been thinking about one of our recent (cyber) conversations where I asked you, “Why are [certain people] so nasty, self righteous, and mean?” Your response was simple: it’s fear. Though my question was more rhetorical than not, and there are probably plenty of other factors that also come into play in some situations, I think you really hit the nail on the head. So many people are so driven by fear in most everything they do. We live in such a fear mongering culture; and if Yoda is correct in his famous quote, then it is obvious that this fear mongering eventually leads to hate mongering, and all of that to our greater suffering. According to the philosophy of Ubuntu, even if only one of us is suffering, then we are all actually suffering.
In this case, I’m not sure who suffers more, the one fearing or the one being feared.
Fear is undoubtedly one of Ubuntu’s most destructive adversaries, for it not only convinces us that we do not need each other, but it further enables and empowers us to be cynical, distrustful, and suspicious of one another. All too often, instead of using our likenesses and similarities to bring us closer together, we use our differences to push each other farther apart; race, religion, class, nationality, sexuality, age, gender, and the list goes on. We set each other up as “the other”, and whisper twisted lies into our comrades ears about how “they”, “the other”, will taint, ruin, or take away what we have.
Fear tells us diversity is to be avoided at all cost, treated discriminatorily, kept at arms length. Fear makes up lies to rationalize the avoidance of “the other”. And we hold those lies as “truths” in our tightly clinched fists, until they fester and turn into hate. Then, we feel completely justified in our hatred for “the other”, because we have convinced ourselves that what they “stand for”, or who they are, or how they live threatens our tiny, little world, our bubble, our warped reality.
I guess it could make us more compassionate with regards to the haters when we realize what a tiring and terrible life-of-fear they must lead; when we realize that behind all of that hate and intolerance, they are just really sad and scared people.
The racist, shooting racial slurs like lasers out of his eyes at “the other”; behind his hate, you’ll find fear.
The religious zealot, shouting fire-breathing messages of condemnation at “the other”; behind his hate, you’ll find fear.
The homophobe, waving a hate-filled sign, foaming at the mouth, chanting meanness about “the other”; behind his hate, you’ll find fear.
The member of a higher class, snootily making rude and incredulous remarks about “the other”; behind his hate, you’ll find fear.
The member of a lower class, snootily making rude and incredulous remarks about “the other”; behind his hate, you’ll find fear.
All of them, just fearful for no good reason, using that fear to widen the gap between them and “the other”. Meanwhile, no matter how convinced they are that they are right and “the other” is wrong, individuals from “the other” are just as convinced to the contrary, only making the gap even more overwhelmingly unbridgeable. How do you think we can combat such fear? Do people even realize how driven and controlled we are by fear? I’m interested to know your thoughts.
As usual, I have prattled on and on. Please send all my love and greetings to the wife and kids. I thoroughly enjoyed your letter to whom it may concern, and look forward to future letters of yours. I always enjoy your words and heart behind them.
Peace and no fear,
I hope this letter finds you well and that you are enjoying a peaceful and relaxing spring break in Brooklyn. You certainly deserve one. Things are good here in Montgomery. It’s unseasonably cold down here, but the flowers are beginning to bloom and small green buds are beginning to appear on trees. Darcy is doing great and Callie is growing every day. You wouldn’t believe all the new words and phrases that she says daily. She is very excited about becoming a big sister. I look forward to Callie and Tessa getting to spend some quality time with their Uncle Brown sometime in the near future.
Work is going good as well. I still love my job with the Equal Justice Initiative. I couldn’t imagine doing a job that brings me greater satisfaction than my current one. Though I have to say, as I deal with the criminal justice system more and more, I try to determine what the root of the problem is. Why does this country have such a love affair with mass incarceration? Why are we among the world’s leaders in putting people to death? Why are we the only country that throws our children who commit crimes into prison for the rest of their lives with no chance of life outside of prison? As I have thought about these issues, I often come back to the lack of community in our society.
I have found that it is much easier to treat strangers a way that you would never treat a loved one. If you have a loved one who is struggling with drug addiction, you try to help them through the problem and, in some instances, even stage an intervention to help get them into rehab and on the road to recovery. Or when you are raising your children, you teach them that everyone makes mistakes – in fact, I remember Big Bird driving home this point on Sesame Street when I was younger. I even remember Grandmom telling me (over and over) “no matter who you are when you grow up, or what you do with your life, even if you were to do something like commit a murder, I will always love you.” That love is such a powerful thing. Typing that memory brings tears to my eyes; just knowing that someone loved me through and through.
But we don’t treat strangers with nearly the same compassion as we treat our loved ones. In this country, if you have a drug addition, we don’t provide treatment for you. Instead, we throw you in prison – the “War on Drugs” has vastly increased our prison population to never before seen numbers. And if you are a child in this country and you succumb to peer pressure or do something impulsive and irresponsible (as fourteen year olds often do), then we can throw you in prison for the rest your life without giving you any opportunity to show that you are reformed, or that you deserve a second chance. And in this country, we have no problem with the State ending the life of a human being – a permanent, devastating punishment that is unique in its finality and cruelty – despite the fact that one in nine individuals who are sentenced to this ultimate punishment are later exonerated.
I think the universal thread that runs through all of these issues is that people are comfortable with the actions being taken by our society as a whole, because they are being taken against nameless, faceless individuals. Our society is self-centered – people often take the approach that if it doesn’t affect me and my friends and family, then why do anything. They don’t seem to see that the actions being taken against these individuals directly affect them. Sometimes I feel that if we could foster a greater sense of Ubuntu in our society, maybe people would realize how these policies affect them: How mass incarceration is damaging to the society, breaks up families, and causes destruction. How throwing children away to die in prison illustrates our lack of humanity. How allowing the state to end the life of another human being is a cruel and medieval practice that provides us with nothing but hate and vengeance in our hearts.
As I write this, I am reminded of the words of Dr. King:
[A]ll mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality.
But how can we get this individualistic society that we live in to realize this truth? How can we foster Ubuntu in a society so based in individual identity? How can we make people realize that what is best for them is what is best for all, rather than what is best for one? Sometimes it feels hopeless, but I know that we must maintain hope and I will wait for the words of encouragement that I hope and trust you will be able to provide.
Please write and let me know how things are in Brooklyn. Give Dayde and Kyle high fives from me. I hope they are doing well and I know they are lucky to have you in their lives.
All my best,
To Whom It May Concern,
It’s 40-something degrees outside, but it’s plenty warm enough in my house to sit on my really nice couch in my boxers. For some reason, there are Angry Birds on my underwear, and I have a $1200 computer on my lap — Both of which were made on the other end of the world by people I have never seen and will never know, but I can be certain that they work much harder than I work.
I think I’ll go take a shower.
I am happy to read your letter. The sentiments seem to echo my current season. I am OK in Nashville. I think I am striving to find moments to live, to be present. A life of mere existence and remembrance of times I laughed like you, without reservation.
Over these last five years of traveling back and forth to Africa, a lot has changed. The strong sense of Ubuntu I once boasted here in Nashville seems to no longer exist. It seems with each trip the bands have stretched. Now, among those who once knew me, I feel alone.
I struggle to understand how a place that I once only knew as home makes me feel like I am a stranger. However, I have also learned the necessity in the season. I have learned to dance in the rain. I have learned to “push through” it.
As I read you letter, I thought of the time we spent hanging during your time in Tennessee. I thought about sitting at the picnic table at your mother’s home and telling you my story as you wrote. The days I would come to my sisters and you would be in town for the weekend. I miss that sense of family that alludes the system of community.
These last few months, I have tried my hardest to find it among the different tribes of this city. I sat with those who boast community and family, and felt alone. I have watched as an outsider as they laughed at jokes only they get and yearned to be a part. I think this culture has confused community with clique.
I aimed at being intentional in building thriving friendships; trying to gather sticks from under the tree, intent on building a raft that could carry me through this season. I found those sticks only useful for fire to keep me warm in those moments. I learned quickly the differences between hanging out and spending time with brothers.
Today, I miss South Africa. I watched an SA movie on Netflix and unexpected emotions erupted in me. Initially I thought it was solely seeing the mountains of Cape Town, remembering my last trip there, driving from Worcester to Cape Town. Driving among those mountains settled me.
I thought about the smell of the trains from Bellville to town. My mind then raced to the Gautrain and the freedom of traveling the big city and feeling a part of the people. Then faces begin to flood my mind. The faces of my South African family, both Cape Town and Jozi.
I miss walking in the village of Muizenberg. I can taste the Almond Honey Croissant at Knead. I miss being frustrated that Checkers closes so early. I miss the YWAMers, ha ha. I miss feeling like I belonged somewhere.
Nearly every Sunday evening in Jozi, we have a family lunch. It’s a good mix of us; Ashy, and my Zulu sisters Phile and Nontebeko, Solomon my brother from Nigeria, Anthony Lebanese a brother from the Congo, and Zipho another Zulu brother. Nontebeko serves as host most of the time. Others weave in and out, but mostly it’s just us.
We get together and it gets loud and often emotional. We argue and debate for hours. We eat and laugh your kind of laughs, loud. The neighbor comes up often to tell us to quiet down. From lunch, often we split ways or head to Rhema for Young Adult night. Monday comes, and we are all Whatsapp-ing like we have not spoken all week. We walk out life together.
The truth of it all hit me this morning. I am not searching for a group of people to hang out with while here. I don’t need another person to chill with at Fido. I am longing for people to walk out life with again. People who will argue with me and tell me I’m wrong. I long for people who will show up unannounced and without appointment, solely because we are a part of each other’s life. I know you know this well. The word that echoes in our stories: Ubuntu; I am searching for it for sure.
I am happy that you have found a place in Brooklyn. It seems you have found a purpose that prods the justice fighter in you. I love seeing your updates. I have always been amazed by the profound profundity of your ability to celebrate the kids around you. You carry an innate quality that kids seem drawn to. I have seen it both in SA and here with my nephews.
I will greet them for you when I see them; they miss you. Mike-Mike was wearing the hoodie from SA the last time I saw him. Micah wears glasses now. It’s amazing to see how fast he and the girls have grown.
You must tell me about Brooklyn. Have you found any similarities with SA? What moves you? What has captured your heart?
Awaiting you words…
Grace and Peace,
I hope this letter finds you well, though I realize the individuals who form our collective “you” are each in such completely different and independent places, going through our own unique sets of trials, indifferences, and victories, that such a hope is more of a wish, and naive at best; but it is truly my hope, nonetheless.
My heart is more often than not heavy by the way we treat us. I desire so much more than what we have become accustomed to offering one another. It seems we routinely choose to see and believe the worst in each other, discriminatorily, and unfairly, withholding the benefit of the doubt; however, I might be offering the benefit of the doubt by insinuating that we have a choice in the matter, and that it has not merely become a subconscious habit, or custom, or a way of life.
Please do not believe for a second that I do not notice the good around me, the genuine offerings of the truest altruism, for those breaths of fresh air are what keeps us alive as one collective body; they are what keep us from completely falling apart. But in order for us to move to a more healthy place, we need to scrutinize the sickness we have become infected with, the negative ways we treat us. Will you help me in this investigation?
I have three questions for you, or us rather:
1) Do you think we are so quick to see and believe the worst in each other out of self-preservation, and maybe for the gift of a pleasant surprise when someone acts in opposition to our negative thoughts of them?
2) Why do we so desperately wish for the benefit of the doubt from others, but are so biased in our willingness to extend it?
3) How do you suggest we go about mending this state of affairs?
I would greatly appreciate any insight you might have in this matter. Please tell me. I will patiently wait for your response; yes, “your” plural. Take care of yourself, and us.
I hope this letter finds you much more than well, welling over even. We have almost made it through the cold and dreaded Winter. Almost, that is. Spring is pushing its way in, truly battling to stay, as it seems Winter is trying to prove its final point for the season; snow is in the forecast today.
But I can’t be bothered by Winter’s need for attention. No matter what it is trying, I am on a much needed hiatus: Spring Break. A neighbor kid is over playing mini-basketball in my living room, Miles Davis is playing in my speakers, and I have no pressing matters, or urgent work, or places to be right now but right here, doing absolutely nothing. Truly sublime.
What is happening in your world?
I couldn’t help but notice, and be moved by, your tweet the other day.
That type of extended humanity is like a refreshing wave, washing clean the individualistic indoctrination society has attempted to stain our soul with, reminding us that we are, in fact, connected, that we are a part of something bigger than our all-too-often self-serving selves. So simple yet beautiful. Thank you for that reminder.
I suppose some of humanity’s avoidance of sharing with one another comes out of self-preservation and protection, wanting to be shielded and guarded from the pain, hurt, and abuse that can commonly come with human interaction; the pain, hurt, and abuse that you so eloquently oftentimes write about and seem to understand so deeply. Besides us trying to avoid pain, I think greed is probably another major perpetrator against our shared experience, our togetherness. But I don’t think that is how we were innately made to interact, to live, to be.
I think humans were created for communion, and the acknowledgement of the importance of one another, in our individual-yet-shared journey through life. I think Ubuntu, “I am what I am because of who we all are,” is imprinted in our DNA, though our modern cultures, for the most part, seem to be at war with this concept. Community was at the center of most original, indigenous cultures; cultures that were most pure, basic, and first; way more socially developed than most cultures in existence today.
I find it extremely fascinating that the African philosophy of Ubuntu was founded in an area of Southern Africa that is also acknowledged as the Cradle of Humankind. Meaning, the idea of Ubuntu was developed at the heart of the geographical location of the very first humans. Stunningly magnificent. Surely this is no coincidence. And we still need that human connection so, so bad, though our modern societies have developed ways of hindering, and warping it. Why else would solitary confinement be one of the worst forms of punishment found in modern Western prisons?
At any rate.
If you wouldn’t mind, tell me about your experiences and encounters with Ubuntu. Your words always speak to a deep place in my soul. Please send my love and greetings to the lovely little sisters, and walk up to your mother and say something hilarious (of your choosing) on my behalf. Hope to hear from you soon.
Warmth and love from a wintery Spring day in Brooklyn,
I hope this letter finds you well and that you are enjoying your recent arrival into fatherhood. It suits you. Can you think of anything more spectacular than holding a tiny little being who is one-half you and one-half of the person you love most in the world? I can only imagine, truly. Give that sweet little baby a big squeeze and kiss on the cheek from me.
I have enjoyed seeing the pictures you have posted so far, and look forward to seeing others, and watching him grow from afar.
Do you remember the joke-yet-real-occurance from our childhood, where a certain family would invite another certain tepid family or person over to watch a slideshow of pictures from their vacation? Sitcoms from my childhood loved that joke, and I most definitely sat in on a couple of the real-life versions.
The pictures were literally projected onto the wall, or a projector screen; real dust danced around in the beam of light that glowed from the humming projector to its destination.
In this Facebook Age we live in, does that even happen anymore? Further still, do people even have actual, physical photo albums, with actual, physical photographs in them, or is everything digital now? I know, for sure, that avoiding someone’s vacation slideshow or photo album is much easier now: “hide from newsfeed,” or better yet “unfriend,” or even better yet “BLOCK.”
Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about sharing. These days, with all of our technological advancements, and the myriad of electronic devices we have at our fingertips, and the ever-growing number of social networks that we are constantly on, I think we “share” things with each other way more than ever before, and yet actually share with each other much, much less than days gone by. I am of the opinion that social networks create a sense of pseudo-community, pseudo-sharing, but hinder our sharing with people we are actually, physically with; texting is also a major culprit.
Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for these advancements, in the way that they help me keep in contact with those who I might not normally have contact with. I myself am on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, email, several different blogs, and even Myspace, though it has moved into a place of irrelevancy. I am on, at least a couple of, these platforms daily, and I cannot actually remember a day that has passed in which I have not texted with at least one person; side note, texting has become such a significant part of our lives that the word “text” has even been added to our dictionary as a verb; it was only a noun a mere few years ago.
I myself provide a daily deluge of posts, on various different social networks; considerably more than many people I know, at that. So, please do not think I am excluding myself from these grievances. My concerns might possibly even come out of my own guilt and self awareness.
But how often do we see two people sitting across from each other at a restaurant, not sharing even as much as a glance at one-another, or a second, much less a word, and yet they’re plunked across the table from one another, obsessively staring down at their cellphones, communicating with a person, or even multiple people, who are not even in the room or in that moment with them? And then ironically, I imagine them later that day, or week, or month, spending time with the person, or multiple people, they were so preoccupied with during dinner that they neglected their significant other, not really spending time with them either, because they are so busy on their phones communicating with their significant other. What a vicious cycle of “sharing” and neglect.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when we were forced to truly be with the person we were with, un-contactable by, and unable to contact, others for the most part. Cellphones did not exist. We made plans in advance. The only interruptions at dinner were the waiters, or a friend who happened to be in the same restaurant and passed by our table, or thick, awkward tension from a fight, or general boredom with a relationship. But at least those variables actually physically existed in that moment.
We did not have a cellphone to text and tell our absent-from-the-moment friend, “I’m eating dinner with so-and-so. Lol.”
Or Facebook to update a status about how good or bad the service in that restaurant is, and maybe even “check-in”.
Or Tumblr to look through pictures of “Cats in Space”, instead of looking at the person we are with.
Or Twitter to randomly share our political beliefs while the person we are with rambles on about something we are not interested in.
Or Instagram to take a picture, documenting what the food we are eating actually looks like.
Or a blog to get on because we are so perplexed with how we don’t share time with people we are with, and it becomes so urgent in our minds that we decide to neglect the person we are with to share with everyone how sharing with everyone can be so toxic.
It seems we have fallen into a pattern of constantly “sharing” with people we are not with, simultaneously neglecting those who are in our actual, physical company.
The other day I saw a father post something on Facebook and it stuck with me, set up camp, and has refused to leave my mind. It was a really simple post. Apparently, he was in the middle of playing a board game with his five-year-old daughter and stopped to tell everyone what they were doing; not about to play a game, or finished playing, but declaratively in the middle of a game. I tried to envision what his daughter was doing while he was looking down at his phone, preoccupied with telling everyone what he was doing.
Was she just sitting there staring at him?
Was it her turn? And if so, was she even aware that he was paying her no mind in that moment?
Was it his turn, and she was just sitting and waiting for him to put down his phone and take his turn?
Was she nagging him to take his turn, “DADDYYYYYYY! It’s YOUR turn!”
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Alas, for all I know, she had excused herself for a moment to use the bathroom or get snacks. And again, who am I, the cyber-sharing king, to judge what was going on in a moment that I was completely absent from. But wait, I was included in those who the father chose to share that moment with, so according to this new technological age we live in, was I there? No, not really. But yes. Yes, I was. But no.
In all my pondering, I’ve realized that real sharing, in general, is a captivating concept, and is an integral one for true community to exist. And ways of sharing can be varied by the type, quality, and selection of who-to-share-with, amongst other things I’m sure.
We can share money, material things, emotions, touch, conversation, time, energy, love, and also even the elements that are the antithesis of these things.
We can share more than we have, be selfish with how much we are willing to share, share the best of what we have, or share with others less than what we are willing to take from them.
We can share with only one other special person, a close group of friends and family, the broader community, strangers, or even everyone we come in contact with.
But whatever the type, quality, or degree of what we are sharing, with whoever we are sharing it with, when we sincerely share with one-another, we are acknowledging the essence of Ubuntu: “I am what I am because of who we all are,” because we would not be who we are if others had not shared themselves with us.
My hope for us, and when I say “us” I mean humanity as a whole, is that we can get back to true sharing…
Dinner conversations that are uninterrupted by cellphone calls.
Intimate embraces that are undisturbed by re-situating to check a text.
Continuous attention whilst playing with our kids, with no unnecessary breaks to tell the world we are spending time with our kids.
Good, quality, un-intruded time with the person in our immediate, actual, physical company.
Am I being unrealistic? Has sharing just taken another form, and I am being an old grump? Is it ok that we ignore someone we are with in order to communicate with those who are somewhere else, because we might eventually do the same with that person, sharing with them when we are in the presence of others?
Nevertheless, this letter has turned into a novel, my thoughts have turned to idle ramblings, and I fear I am maybe being too harsh on us, or a little unfair. Please write and let me know how fatherhood is treating you. I would love to hear of any signs of Ubuntu you have encountered in your comings and goings. Extend my love to Jessica and that sweet baby boy.
Light and love from a Spring-like Brooklyn day,