Coffee and Gratitude

It’s early and I’m drinking my cup of coffee.  I bought a good sized mug when I traveled to Disney World earlier this year.  An old style Mickey graces the front as a waiter carrying a steaming cup of joe.  Two Lents ago I followed a cleanse, and I gave up caffeine entirely; these days I drink half-caf, and only one cup at that.  I know, that’s pretty weird.  I’m 40-something and trying to learn some new things.

When I traveled to Swaziland the summer following my college graduation, I tried to learn some of the local language, siSwati. It’s a Bantu language similar to Zulu, and most of the tribal populations in and around South Africa have kindred languages (sort of like Portuguese and Spanish).  I didn’t really succeed since most people also spoke English, but I learned a few words.  “Yebo” meant “yes” but also could be used in reply to a greeting.  “Babé” and “Maké” were my host parents, or any other person old enough to be my parent as a term of respect.  “siYabonga” meant “Thank you.”

But I learned something else about that one.  “Thank you” always took the plural form, the “si” at the beginning of the word.  Even if I said thank you to my Maké for making me breakfast, if I said thanks in the singular, she corrected me.  “Not ngiyabonga, but siyabonga,” she would say.  Always plural.  Always.

It took time but I discovered why.  If you said thanks for something, the Swazis realized there couldn’t be only one person involved.  The breakfast from Maké?  She cooked the toast, to be sure.  But someone else sold the bread to her at the market.  And that person probably made it.  But she bought the flour from another person entirely (never mind the other ingredients).  Someone delivered that flour, and another person placed it in the sack.  Surely someone worked the mill to grind that flour up, and the flour didn’t just magically walk into the mill.  Someone need to pluck the grain either by hand or operating a machine, and someone needed to sow that seed. The farmer got that seed from somewhere or someone.  And on it goes.

siYabonga.  Thank you.  All of you.  For the breakfast of toast and butter.

I learned gratitude there in Swaziland.  I often forget, of course.  I get lost in the culture of consumerism that penetrates nearly every aspect of my life and tells me I’m the most important and that I should do things for myself.  I sometimes give a half-hearted thanks to Melissa when she hands me something if I’m lost in thought, barely thanking her let alone a whole host of others.

But today, as I drink my half-caf in a mug bought in Florida, I remember.  Thank you.  Every single one of you that had a hand in bringing the coffee and the mug and the milk and the splenda to my home.  Wherever you are, whatever you do.  May this day be filled with blessing.  I am grateful for this mug and the coffee it holds.  siYabonga.

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siYabonga, Phil+