Bishop Desmond Tutu passed away a few days ago and the tributes continue to pour in. It was through Tutu’s writing and speeches that I learned about the concept of Ubuntu, an approach to life that says that my humanity is inextricably bound up in yours, that a person is a person through other persons. I’ve also heard it expressed as “I am who I am because of who we all are together.” A dozen words that gets straight to the heart of the truth of our interdependence.
I can’t help but think of Tutu’s voice, which could convey in the span a minute, a fierce challenging urgency, and an infectious impish sense of humor.
I remember one speech in particular. He was explaining Ubuntu and contrasting it with the myth of the so called self-made man.
“ When I hear a man tell me that he is totally independent, that his achievements are a result of his efforts and his alone, I think,, “Oh how sad that must be. This man is so terribly poor to not need anyone at all.”
So with gratidude to the growers, the pickers, the warehouse workers, the shippers, the truckers, the highway construction workers, the people who made the tires for those trucks, the buyers, the retailers (obviously this is to name only a fraction) … to the people who made it possible for me to drink this cup of coffee as I write this, thank you.
And with gratitude to the generations of storytellers who stand behind me, and brought their versions forward… a brief story about a self made flea…
A story is told of Namous, the vain glorious flea who found himself one day at the edge of a gorge spanned by a rather flimsy rope bridge. He was contemplating how many long hops it might take him to make the crossing, when an elephant, traveling in the same direction, happened by, examined the structure and relying on long memory and experience, determined that it would just hold its weight. As he took his first step, Namous, always the opportunist, jumped in the elephants ear and made himself as comfortable as he could be. Amplified perhaps by the acoustical architecture of the pachyderm’s ear, Namous could hear what sounded like the thunderous rumble of the bridge creaking. The crossing proved successful, and after a time Namous took leave of his host, and made it to his evening’s lodging at the Flea Bag Inn. Invigorated by his perilous journey, and perhaps inflated by the elixir of the elephants blood, which he had not lost the opportunity to sample, Namous headed to the bar and related the day adventures, leaving his drinking companions to contemplate his exploits. “How great is Namous,” he declared. “Remember Namous. The flea that shook a bridge.”
To my readers. Thank YOU! I am who I am because of who we all are together.