“A person is a person because of other people.”
We harm and heal each other. We are made and sculpted by our interactions together; not only those most intimate in our lives, also our co-workers, those we encounter on the bus, the street, at the grocery store, at the gas station.
Every day, Seattle’s downtown core flutters with bright green-jacketed angels who clean our streets. Every cigarette butt and fallen leaf they sweep and cart away. I greet them and know quite a number by first name. About 6:50am Wednesday morning, I walked across West Lake Plaza on my way to clinic and encountered one such angel; a woman I would guess in her late 50s, maybe 60, was sweeping. She had ear buds in. I approached so she could see me coming,
not wanting to alarm her.
I gently placed my hand on her shoulder and told her thank you, told her I was grateful for all she did to make our city beautiful. She initially pulled out one, then really hearing when I repeated, “I’m grateful,” she pulled out the other. Her eyes widened. “You know it’s my second day back,” she said and paused. “I’ve just come back…My daughter died 5 months ago. She was 38 years old. ” I asked her daughter’s name, “Tamara. I was here sweeping, praying. And you just stopped to greet me.”
I learned Tamara’s two children have and continue to live with their grandma. Their grandma’s name is Grace, Grace who was sweeping our city before 7am. Grace was one of 11 children herself. With Tamara’s death, she’s let go of the idea of retirement anytime soon. She talked about her given name in the context of her large family. She said she had no idea why she shared all this with me. We each expressed gratitude to the other. We parted with broad, tender smiles and fullness at the edge of our eyes.
“A person is a person because of other people.” I have heard this attributed as a Zulu proverb, Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu,
I find solace and curiosity in the words. I turn the phrase over like a mental river rock. I find refuge in the intimacy of human exchange particularly as our earth unleashes hurricanes and earthquakes, and the world seems so filled by natural and human generated devastation. Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu,“A person is a person because of other people.” The exchange with Grace lasted maybe 5 minutes. I walked away tenderized, more connected, deeply alive, deeply human.
With Sunday’s arrival of rain, the water has returned into our light, into our days, into our nights. In this time so confused and distressed in our city and nation and world, how might you find solace and nourishment in the fabric of this human family of which we are all a part? How can you reach out to another, a simple gesture of acknowledgement or care or understanding or gratitude? Or maybe asking someone dear for a gesture of support.
“A person is a person because of other people.“ Carry this little phrase around for awhile. See how it sits with you. I welcome your thoughts, reflections, insights and stories. Wishing you a sense of connection with the broader human family. It’s available to us in each moment, in each encounter.