The Houlton community and ‘ubuntu’

To the editor:

We as a community are grieving [following the March 23 fire] — grieving for homes and memories lost, grieving for the soul of the child extinguished before his time, grieving for our community that bears witness to this unbearable communal tragedy.

For me personally, however, I see something good coming out of this. I see the lifestyle of ubuntu restored among us.  

Ubuntu is an African philosophy that says people exist in community not isolation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu summarized ubuntu as follows: “I am because we are,” which literally means that a person is a person through other people. Ubuntu speaks to the fact that we are all connected and that we can only thrive through the growth of others. 

Probably many of you would remember that when you were young, if you did wrong any adult could correct you in the community. Everyone was looking out for you and was in your business, for better or for worse. It was like one big extended family. This was ubuntu. 

We were created to live relationally. We were not created to be independent or self-sufficient. Rather, we were made to live in a loving and harmonious interdependency with others. But sadly, this lifestyle has been lost in many places due to urbanization and individualism. 

Houlton has followed suit. However, as we were going through the recent traumatic experience as a community, we realized anew that we are all connected and interdependent. If one member of the community suffers, we all share the suffering. It was so encouraging to see the outpouring of support for those displaced by the fire. Everyone – from our town leaders, first responders, relief agencies, charities, churches, business owners, to individual community members – came together as one. This is ubuntu: I am because you are. I am because we are. 

Though I am still grieving, I am grateful that I live relationally in this caring community. 

Rev. Victor Han

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