I sent out Christmas cards this year for the first time ever.
I can tell that I am going to hate sending out Christmas cards.
Not because of the work it requires or the insanely over-priced stamps. Not because I swore I would never send out a Christmas card that only read "Merry Christmas" and had our names on it (Who wants that kind of uneventful card? Give me some juicy life details please!) And not because I am forced to evaluate my incredibly inconsistent, scrawny penmanship while trying to remember where the comma goes in the address. These are just minor causes for concern in the grand scheme of card sending.
The problem is, nobody wrote me back.
I mean, did they get my card? Did they think the picture of Annie in her Santa outfit with her stuffed animals was cute? Did the card arrive before Christmas or after? Would they like to reciprocate my card with an email or letter? Shouldn't they say, "We got your Christmas card," and then proceed to strike up a conversation?
Granted, I've never responded to a Christmas card in my life. But now that I'm on the other side of sending, I realize I want a return card acknowledging that the card arrived and letting me know whether they liked it or not. I've decided...
Next year I am going to send a self-addressed envelope with my Christmas cards so I can get a response.
I started thinking about this last night as I was reading an e-mail from a girl in Thailand who reads this blog and had her own mouse-horror story to share with me. I was laughing so hard by the end that I was in tears. And it hit me, this girl who I don't know, just invited me into her life and into her story. I felt truly honored.
Lately I find myself reading your comments in response to my ramblings and I feel overwhelmed that you have decided to be a part of my journey. Thank you for your encouragement, your love, and your consistency. Thank you for letting me share my life with you. And more importantly, thank you for sharing your own stories with me, because in so doing, you invite me to become a small part of your life too.
Our Only Commodity
At lunch today, my friend Mark recounted a conversation he had with his friend about economics. They were talking about their commodities and the value of gold when it dawned on Mark that gold only has value because we have given it value. Along that line, nothing intrinsically has worth unless we as humans deem it so. And at the end of it all, those things which we give worth to on this earth will cease to exist. So, he reasoned, the only true commodity that we have is ourselves. Everything else is just stuff. But ourselves?
Our journeys, our stories, our compassion, our time, our hearts, our minds, our talents, our humanity... that is ours and ours alone to give. Our only true commodity.
Lord knows I don't have money and we can barely pay the bills each month. I have no assets. I don't own a house. And I drive my 1999 Ford Escort. There are no savings, no 401 K plans, no stocks or bonds, no commodities to speak of. But I have a voice. I am spirited. I am a lover of people. And I have a soul. These intangible, intrinsic gifts are the greatest commodities in the world.
I can't buy you a car... but I can love you. I can't invest in Wall Street... but I can create and invent. I can't own my own house, but I can make a home and invite you in. You might be able to offer me money, cars, houses, stocks, companies, clothes, or food but these things can disappear in a moment. And then what commodities will you have to offer? Your commodity is yourself, the only true thing you can give me, or anyone else in this world.
(Though don't get me wrong, I will not protest if you send me a new car or a cute outfit :)
So this all leads me back to sitting in bed last night reading an email from a girl in Thailand who is telling me about her and the roommates and the pet mouse. And I realized I was so happy to hear her story. And I started thinking about those Christmas cards again and how disappointed I was that the whole Christmas card institution doesn't include a return card that lets the sender know the card was received with great love and affection. And I thought...
"If I diminish you, I diminish myself.
Ubuntu addresses a central tenet of African philosophy:
the essence of what it means to be human...
To recast the Cartesian proposition "I think therefore I am," ubuntu would phrase it, "I am human because I belong." Put another way, "a person is a person through other people," a concept perfectly captured by the phrase "me we." No one comes into this world fully formed. We would not know how to think or walk or speak or behave unless we learned it from our fellow human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. The solitary, isolated human being is a contradiction in terms."
Ubuntu. You make me human. I make you human. If I diminish you, I also diminish myself for I have robbed myself of my own humanity. But if I love you, if I befriend you, if I forgive you; I love and befriend and forgive myself... I humanize us both.
I love this concept. And what a powerful tool it is in the hands of a man who has dedicated his life to ending apartheid; to ending war and hatred. To say to people, "Look, when you rape you not only harm the victim, you harm yourself and you become a little less human. But when you forgive, when you choose peace, freedom, and compassion as a way to interact with your enemies, you not only change their lives for the better, but you confer the goodness of your own humanity onto yourself as well."
This series of books put out by Reverend Tutu are only $1.99 in the Bargain Books section at almost any Borders Bookstore (they are perfect gifts, I suggest stocking up); but every time I open up these books to read the quotes of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, or Desmond Tutu I know I am reading wisdom that is worth millions of dollars.
This particular book in the series, Believe, has a quote on one page from TuTu that simply says: I love being loved.
And I think that sums it up for me. I love being loved. I love loving others, but I desperately love being loved as well.
So when I share my life with you, I am choosing to love you. To invite you into my world and my journey. When you respond, you are loving me back and inviting me into your journey. And together that means we are sharing ubuntu: the essence of what it means to be human. To add to one another or to diminish one another. This is the only true commodity we have to offer.
My prayer is that you, whoever you are, will realize the power and worth of your commodity. It is rare. It is precious. It is unique. And it is the heart of what we were created for: to love God, to love others.
The essence of our humanity is simply being human with one another. And as strange as it may sound, I am glad to be human with you.