Angela’s lichen, Desmond Tutu, reconciliation and ubuntu

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 30, 2021

Lichen grows on fencepost outside McDougall Memorial United Church on Stoney Nakoda traditional land east of Morley.  Photo by Angela Kaquitts

When Stoney Nakoda reader Angela Kaquitts, from Morley, sent me the accompanying photo she’d taken just before the snow arrived, I knew it had a special message for all of us during these days of Truth and Reconciliation. But was I ever in for a surprise when South African Truth and Reconciliation champion, the just-deceased Desmond Tutu, joined the conversation and provided us our New Year’s resolution!

Toward the end of November, Angela was driving along Highway 1A east of Morley and was attracted to the beautiful late-afternoon scene of the McDougall Memorial United Church. She pulled over and positioned her camera by a fencepost – a fencepost with an amazing message.

As most of our readers are aware, many among the Stoney Nakoda First Nation see the historic church as a symbol of colonialism and a reminder of painful residential school days – the very things the Truth and Reconciliation movement is addressing.

Lichen was growing on top of the fencepost. It was almost as if the Creator had posted the message, “What can we liken Truth and Reconciliation to? Consider the lichen.” And what about lichen? It speaks of the mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship enjoyed by lichen, growing as it does out of two very different sources: fungi and algae.

The lesson? Truth, goodness and beauty can come from a respectful relationship among peoples of very different heritages, such as we have here in our Bow Valley.

Which was the heart of the message lived and proclaimed by South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who passed away Dec. 26 at the age of 90. He was chair of South Africa’s post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and pursued a path of restorative justice. It’s about practicing ubuntu.

Ubuntu “is the essence of being human,” Archbishop Tutu wrote in his book, God Has a Dream.

“It speaks of the fact that my humanity … is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole.”

In the wisdom of lichen and Desmond Tutu, then, I’d like to propose the following New Year’s resolution: May ubuntu inform our thoughts, words and deeds in our life together in 2022, as we pursue Truth and Reconciliation for the greater good.


© 2021 Warren Harbeck

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