Like any self-respecting mother, I live vicariously through my kids.
So, I am learning some cool things about South Africa because Mad Scientist is spending a semester abroad, hanging with the beautiful Zulus and 53 other university students in Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town. It is a once in a lifetime experience. The kind every young adult should have before “real life” sucks up all the fun of being alive. The kind every young adult should have while an old adult is willing to pay for it.
He Fought the Wall and the Wall Won
In between classes he gets to go on safari, zips on zip lines, bird watch and skip waves on some beautiful beaches. He was even selected to be the star of “The Bachelor in South Africa,” the students’ re-creation of the show because the female co-eds were going through Bachelor withdrawal. Who would have thunk my future daughter- in- law would come from a knock-off reality show? He could do worse. It was quite the life. At least until he fought the wall and the wall won.
Facebook message to me: “Mom, I pulled a brick wall down on myself. I’m ok. Minor fracture on my tibia, and a pretty nasty gash that required stitches. But you should see the wall.”
Ha! Ha! Very funny. Except that it wasn’t. The “minor” fracture ended up being a full leg cast with limited mobility. Good bye zip lines, good-bye waterfall hikes. Hello sitting around watching other people zip and hike.
Here in the good old US of A we love a “can do” spirit. In fact, we don’t just love it, we celebrate it! We applaud the Yankee ingenuity that gets things done. We affirm the person who pulls themselves up by their bootstraps. We would rather wear out than rust out. And why not? Hard work pays big dividends.
But so does rest and reflection. Even if it’s shoved down your throat. Or your leg.
If you are a healthy, young male forced inactivity is hard. Heck, if you are a healthy person period, forced inactivity is hard. We busy Americans like to get things done. We have 30 things to check off our to-do list before lunch. Broken leg? Ain’t nobody got time fo dat!
Our industrious spirit is even reflected in our greeting.
“Hi-how are-you-I- am- fine-thank-you.”
We really don’t want to know how somebody is because we have a 1 pm meeting. We really don’t want to say how we are because, well, who has three hours to be our own personal therapist? Awk. Messy. Much easier to ask a question you don’t really want answered. Keep it simple and uncluttered. Real relationships? Ain’t nobody got time for dat!
A Different World
But in Johannesburg, it’s a different world.
“Sawbuona” – I see you.
“Ngikhona” – I am here.
That’s it? Wait! Where are the layers of duplicity and maneuvering to give a culturally acceptable answer?
This is intriguing.
No insincere question which I have to dodge with a phony answer. No pressure to come up with a list of things I have accomplished that will tell you what I have done, but not how I am. No need to pretend it’s all good. Just an acknowledgment that I am seen by you. Just a response that I am present in the moment and that is sufficient.
I see you – with a full leg cast. I know you can’t do much, but you are still you.
I see you – in your stress and fatigue and that’s okay. You don’t have to hide that.
I see you – in your imperfections and failures. You still are valued and loved.
I am here – in my leg cast, not doing much, but thankful for life and health.
I am here – in my worry and anxiety, but still trusting and believing.
I am here – in my frustrations and joys, but still in community.
Thanks for Making Me a Person
The Zulus have another saying, “Umuntu ngumuntu nagabantu,” which means “A person is a person because of other people.”
When we are in community we are connected. We express our personhood in the context of relationship. We don’t relate to inanimate objects; we relate and react to people.
Sometimes we think others limit us. Sometimes they do. People can be anchors that weigh us down. However, they can also be anchors that ground us. Like little GFIs absorbing the shock of life with us.
My entire family was gone over Easter break. The aforementioned bachelor son was cozying up with his bevy of beauties, and the hubby and girls were doing a short-term missions trip in Mexico. Because I work in education, I was also on break. After the shock of realizing I would have a week home alone, I picked myself off the floor and got busy doing all the things I never have time to do in between my job, laundry, errands, blah, blah, blah… Look at me: busy bee! Zoom, zoom , zig, zig!
It was all good for a few days and I really did get lots done (nothing feels as good as taking a sledge-hammer and whacking an evil co-wor.. ur, foosball table to death while cleaning out the garage, but let’s save that for another day). I did miss the motley crew and was happy to see their dirt-encrusted faces upon their return. I had the dogs to keep my company, but somehow it just wasn’t quite the same.
I wasn’t a person because I got lots done. I wasn’t a person because my Siberian Huskies love me, even if they did give me a mug one Christmas letting me know. I develop my personhood in community and express it in relation with other people.
Sometimes it takes a literal brick wall to slow us down, but that’s just painful. Better to let the metaphorical brick wall slow us down enough so we can see others and be seen by others. I’m not trying to open the TMI floodgates, but what a beautiful greeting that can give us reason to pause and really engage with another person.
Meanwhile, “Umkhumbi , wami, ugcwele ngenyoka zemanzini.”