This is my third General Convention as a deputy. The days and nights are packed with committee meetings, legislative sessions, worship services, and many more activities. We are at the halfway point for legislative sessions, yet we have only dealt with about one-third of the more than 400 resolutions that were submitted. Early mornings and late nights are usually the norm here.
With so much going on, so much busyness, it can be difficult to catch your breath, to slow down and notice the people around you. I’m not talking about saying “hello, what diocese are you from?” That kind of thing happens a lot at convention: in the elevator, in line for coffee, or walking to the convention center. (I enjoy those quick interludes and people seem to always light up when I tell them I’m from Maine. Everyone seems to love our state!) No, I’m talking about really seeing the people that you meet.
The Chaplain of the House of Deputies is Lester Mackenzie from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, but he is originally from South Africa. At the start of each legislative session, he is called to lead us in prayer. He often begins by greeting us in Zulu by saying Sawubona which means “I see you.” The response is Yebo or “yes, I see you too.”
This could be just a greeting. But I think it an invitation to really see the other person. It’s an invitation to meet one another, to recognize that you may have different viewpoints about life, politics, or theology- but to see that there are so many ways you are alike. Some times you just have to slow down for just a minute, to notice, to see.
Sunday, I had one of those moments. I got into the elevator to go down to the Bishops United Against Gun Violence rally in front of our hotel. A couple walked in behind me and I looked up and realized it was Phillip and April Schentrup, whose daughter Carmen was killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida this past February 14. They had spoken to the House of Deputies the day before and they were on their way to speak at the rally.
I am the father of two girls. I cannot begin to imagine this happening to one of them. The grief, the anger, the helplessness. We were alone in the elevator and I could see and feel all of this and more washing off of them. The hollow look in their eyes belied a pain that will never go away. “Thanks for coming to convention” was all I was able to muster. They both gave me brief, forced smiles and then we exited the elevator.
On the way down to get dinner, I stepped into the elevator and again found myself alone with Phillip Schentrup. He had that same pained look in his eyes. I took a chance and tried to strike a conversation by introducing myself. To my surprise, his face lit up. Like many before him, he was excited to hear that I was from Maine. He and his family visited Maine a couple of years ago and it seemed a fond memory for him. We talked about the places they visited, how they went whitewater rafting on the Kennebec, how they had been to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. We continued to talk as we walked into the lobby. He seemed grateful for a moment of normal conversation. A few moments later, we parted and went our separate ways.
I don’t know if he will remember meeting me. I don’t know if he will remember anything we talked about tomorrow, next week, or next year. But I will remember taking a minute to really seethis man, to see past the mask of pain he wears, and try to do better than mumbling “thanks for coming.” I hope I helped for a few moments, even just a tiny, little bit.
Sawubona. Yebo. Who will you see today?