I know it’s odd to say, but I get grossed out at this time of year.
The beauty and the magic of all the holidays and wintry, snuggly family times are truly special, but they come with a backdrop of materialism and gluttony that keeps creeping in further and further into my life.
I have two inner voices that navigate me that I have to constantly keep in check—one side that wants to give, share and help, and the other side that sees a “sale” sign and gets derailed and drawn into the allure of getting more things we don’t need for less.
In other words, a lens that looks outward and one that looks inward. I often have to stop myself to make sure the better, more challenging lens is in focus.
The duality of these two opposite worlds living inside of me is not unexpected, I would imagine.
Life is full of these ebb and flow personalities in most people. We house multiple possibilities within one body—an ability to make kind, thoughtful decisions and in the same body a personality to become selfish and gluttonous.
Our concern for ourselves and those who inhabit our small circle is understandable, but if we could extend that to be a wider encompassing circle for those we don’t even know or might never meet, that is where deep fulfillment lives.
I can’t enjoy a snooty craft beer, hot shower or great music as much if I know someone is suffering somewhere. The reality is, someone is always suffering somewhere. It’s a heavy, burdensome weight to bear and one that gets me trapped in my head with helpless feelings.
Other times I forget to allow that weight to reach me, as I give in to materialism and an inward focus that numbs me to reality. The challenge in my life is trying to balance the two extreme sides in my brain, so I can help and be aware, but not so much that I never give myself permission to enjoy this one life.
I recently read about the African word, “obonato.” I can’t claim to know a thing about African languages, but it apparently translates to, “I exist because you exist.” An Americanized version might be, “I see you, and we’ve got this.”
The idea behind obonato is that we can reach our deepest feeling of happiness only when others around us feel that same sense of happiness. Now life is not this idealistic land where all is equal and fair, so we can’t expect it to be this way all the time, but if it’s what we seek, we can find opportunities to tap into it more often.
It’s like when you have an amazing meal, you don’t want to have that meal alone. You hold up your fork to your loved one and gasp, “Oh my gosh, you have to try this.” It tastes better and the experience comes alive in color when it’s shared with others.
There’s a story that comes along with the African word, and I can’t verify if it truly happened, but I’m sure something like it happened somewhere in the world. A man was in an African village, and he told all the kids there was a bunch of fresh, juicy fruit waiting at a tree across the field, and whoever could run to the tree the fastest would get the fruit.
Now in America, what would we do? Well, first, we have to replace fresh fruit with pizza, cash or a television, and we have to be honest and say our instinct would be to run our butts off to get to that tree faster than anyone else, focused on the excitement of getting something for nothing that we think will make us happy.
What the African kids did was something I can’t wrap my head around Americans doing. They linked arms without even discussing it and ran towards the tree together. The man was shocked and asked them what they were doing, and their reasoning was “obonato” — the feeling of we all exist because each other exists.
In other words, the fruit tastes better when we all have a piece, and we’re all focused on each other’s well being.
It’s the equivalent of walking into a bar and exclaiming,”This round’s on me!” or paying for the person in line behind you at a drive through. It’s realizing how lucky you are to have those new wool socks and wishing everyone could feel those small moments of comfort.
As we go into a new year steeped in possibilities, I want to remember those possibilities are richer when I look outward instead of focusing only on how much I can get or my ego-driven goals.
I want to link arms with others and get to the fruit together because the truth is the fruit tastes damn better when we all get a piece. I want 2021 to be the year of all of us sharing the fruit, turning to each other with juice dripping down our chins, smiling, as we say, “Isn’t this the best?”