Sawubona

Camlyn - Provo, Utah
Entered on November 8, 2011

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I believe in the expression sawubona. I understand it as a Zulu greeting that means, “We see you,” to which you could respond, yebo sawubona, meaning “We see you too.” What if we acknowledged each other in this way every now and then? This is not the half-hearted or passing response “How are you” has become. This is not something you can really lie about or fake. You cannot say, ‘I see you’ and not stop to look at the person. I feel this phrase could gradually change people. I feel this phrase could seal relationships. Hearing this phrase would remind me of my obligations to those around me. My obligation to love, to pay attention, to serve, to listen, to invite, to understand, to see…

I believe there’s a reason we are on this Earth with other souls to interact with. If my purpose is to learn, how can I do that without a teacher or fellow students? If my purpose is to serve, how can I do that without another person to serve? If my purpose is to grow, how can I do that without someone to challenge me? If I become complacent, how can I revive without another to push me? If I am to love, how am I to fully understand it without another to break it open? Whatever my purpose is, it involves people. It involves the teacher who forgets my name. It involves the friend I haven’t spoken to in years. It even involves the random stranger I meet and hardly think of again.

On a seemingly average college day, I needed time to relax. I went to the fine arts gallery where student work was displayed. Generally when viewing art, I keep to myself and don’t bother people—and they do the same. But that day an old man came up next to me. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” I responded, “It is.” He continued, “Did you see the one on the other side…” We talked about the art. Then we talked about our families. We talked about our interests and our experiences. He was so much like me! But he was so far ahead… When we were done, I walked out of the building, looked at the sky. I just stood there. I smiled. Then I literally laughed out loud. I looked around. I really looked.

Why was I crying? I felt so much joy. I felt like I had just experienced something that I’d been missing. How many of those moments had I missed? Such ‘passing-stranger’ experiences defy worldly laws.

For half an hour, he had given himself to me and for half an hour he had given his time to look at me.

Sawubona…

For half an hour of our lives, we were devoted to each other. When I looked back at him, something happened.

Yebo sawubona…

I don’t really understand what happened. Maybe I’ll understand exactly what the tears meant some day. I almost felt like I had discovered something secret or forgotten. All I know is I was full.

I believe in people. But more importantly, I believe in seeing them.