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The hands, they wash each other


I cannot sleep. A Xhosa saying has been playing on loop in my mind. iZandla ziyahlambana. The hands wash each other.

In some ways I suppose this could be interpreted as ‘you look out for me and I’ll look out for you’ but there’s so much more meaning when you interpret it as ‘we cannot be what we need to be without each other.’

It’s a fitting and timely image too. Never before have we washed our hands this often. And it with such care that we teach our children how to wash their hands. Patiently counting, gently but firmly. Diligently, thoroughly. The hands that we use to work, to love, to comfort. Hands that may be sitting idle while we wait for work to restart or we wait for permission to touch each other again. Idle but for the washing.

And so it is with our communities, with the people around us. We cannot be what we need to be without each other.

I don’t stand alone here watching with bewilderment at what is happening in America. The indignation at the inconvenience of wearing a mask is baffling, in the face of a crisis of health. Although not baffling given the crisis of leadership. But perhaps they have been living with another saying driving their response – you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. The art of the deal. I will act when I see that there is something in it for me.

The last few months have been incredibly tough. The near violent clash of work life and family life has sent me and so many others reeling. It has been so difficult trying to reconcile the overwhelming stress of it all with the feeling of survivor’s guilt – I have a job, be grateful. My recent response to this is that I have been meditating quite a bit. In some sense it’s self-preservation, as I get to carve out some time for myself. But in another way it has helped me to find perspective and clarity and has helped me to reflect on our situation more objectively. Solid chunks of meditation have also helped me to be better at embracing moments of micro-meditation. A quiet few breaths here and there to reset.

The washing of hands presents a beautiful opportunity for this. iZandla zam ziyahlambana (my hands are washing each other). I watch them. I focus in on them now. Right now they are caring for each other, doing what needs to be done. This simple act is helping me to care for those around me.

What other act could I do to be a hand to someone who may be lost or may be struggling? In what way could I show compassion and empathy?