In a Time Like This…
April 13, 2020
There is a time for everything according to Ecclesiastes; perhaps this is a time for us to say “Namaste.”
Namaste is a customary Hindu greeting widely used on the Indian subcontinent and among the Indian diaspora around the world. When you take the word apart, nama means “bow,” as means “I” and te means “you.” So literally the word means “bow I you” or “I bow to you.” Christians have added another layer of meaning: I bow to the God in you, and when persons say “Namaste” to one another, it implies we bow to the God in each other.
As we attempt to navigate the restrictions and apprehensions of this social upheaval in our world, perhaps “Namaste,” the meaning of the word and the gesture exchanged between those who say it to the other is as meaningful and comforting as anything we can say. When both persons understand the meaning, the gesture itself—hands folded as in prayer and a gentle respectful bow—may be enough.
I thought today of those who have no voice, or no understanding of the other’s language or those who have never heard of Namaste. I thought of people isolated in their homes, apartments, places of refuge; they can see their neighbors through their windows and doorways, perhaps, but are not near enough to exchange a verbal greeting. I know people who no longer understand the meaning of words, but they can see my expression, my smile, my wave or outstretched hand that cannot reach them in their isolation, my bow. Even if they have never heard of Namaste, I rather think they do understand what it means.
I remember my sister, born with Down Syndrome, who never learned to talk. Her speech center never developed, and we were told and she would never speak. She made sounds we, who knew her well, could interpret and “sang songs” that imitated a rhythm we recognized, but she could never say words. Yet she understood, better than we did, what was going on and responded with expressions that said, “I’m so happy to see you!” or “I told you so,” and gestures like a hug or a gentle pat on the arm or shoulder. She would have understood the meaning of a bow and folded hands.
In times like these, anything we can do to communicate our respect, concern, admiration and love for one another means even more than it might in ordinary times. We all need affirmation and confirmation that we are important; important to God and to one another. I say to you, “Namaste.” Imagine the bow.