July 22 – Ubuntu – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

“Ubuntu – I am because you are, you are because I am. ” A Deep African Way of Being

In the winter, I met a man in South Africa. After several days together, I asked him about Ubuntu. He said, “It is a deep African custom.” He did not explain, but rather repeated its meaning, more slowly and with deeper reverence, “It means, I am because you are: you are because I am. Ubuntu.”

It is something I have always believed in, that is in the ignited space of our deepest suffering, in the release of our deepest fears, in the familiar peace of our deepest joys, we are each other. I felt it in the cancer rooms, in the eyes of the burdened mothers sitting across from me, none of us wanting the dark things growing inside. Ubuntu.

I have been finding it in every path, in every way. In Martin Bruber’s sense of I=Thou, where only in keeping what is real between us real can God appear.. in the fight of Jesus where two or more of you come together, there I am..in the one compassion of Buddha.. in the numinous love that ancient stones emanate if we are still enough to bow to them. Ubuntu. I am because you are, even in how we live off the breath of plants, you are because I am, even in how the plants live off of our exhalation.

I remember, years after Robert helped me survive cancer, after I helped him survive alcohol, I remember the two of us in a small park eating sandwiches with numb fingers, like little damaged birds, and Robert raised his head suddenly and said, “I have cancer,” and I took his hand and offered in return, “And I have been an alcoholic.” Ubuntu…how we need each other to be complete.

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