For Everything We Are, Our Nothingness Matters.
A guest post/personal essay by David Livingstone Gashagaza.
To the fellow human being I met down the street who thought that I was just a black guy with locks,
To my classmates who thought I was just a guy from Africa,
To the girls who just see me as an attractive or less attractive black man,
To my white friends who refer to me as their black friend,
To the police officer who just sees me as a black man,
To the people I meet in Walmart who just see me as that black guy,
To the fellow neighbor whom I meet every day in the elevator and who sees me just as their black neighbor,
To the people, I meet in the bars who just see me as an African guy,
To the fellow people of African descent who nod their heads to prove their recognition of me,
To the white people that go overboard to make me feel comfortable,
To my African people who are always happy to see a guy from home,
To the fellow Rwandans who refer to me as “uwacu,”
To my teachers who just see me as their student,
To companies that just see me as a customer,
To churches that just see me as a member,
To my country that just sees me as a citizen,
To my friends and family with whom I share my life, and when they can, they check on me to know how I’m doing.
To the girl I love who melts down my heart, and to everyone else, we share the blessing of being a human,
I want to introduce myself. People call me Stone. Others call me Dave or David. A handful of people call me Gashagaza. My official name is David Livingstone Gashagaza. I was born male in an East African country called Rwanda, the city of Kigali where I lived most of my life. When I came to the USA for the first time, I was given the black identity. Though I have always been aware of my blackness, it’s only when I came to the USA that I started to feel as if I was immediately recognized as a black guy in most classes I attended or the stores I entered. Don’t get me wrong. I always knew white people existed. In Rwanda, I had seen white people, often treated as special and offered first-class hospitality. I had also seen them, of course, on TV and in movies.
The first time I went to DMV, I was asked if I was black/African, Latino, or Asian. I didn’t know why it mattered, but I guess maybe they really wanted to know. I don’t know why. It might be confusing sometimes. That’s how I decided to embrace my new identity as ‘black.’ It’s not that I wasn’t aware of my skin color. It’s just that I had never been identified as the Black Guy.
Through my time in the USA, I have made many friends who happen to be of many races. I experienced the beauty of diversity which I refer to as the many colors of the flowers. Imagine if all flowers were of the same color. That’s how I think the world would be like if we weren’t a diverse kind. The beauty of diversity is like that of flowers.
Without paying attention to the identity I’m given by the governmental classification, it’s important to remember that I am someone’s intimate friend. I am a son to a loving mother. I am a son to the humblest father I know. I am a nephew to many caring family members. I am a brother to three beautiful young sisters. I am a brother to three brilliant brothers. I am a cousin to many amazing cousins. I am an uncle to the cutest boy in the world. There is also a girl I’m in love with, and I think she’s the girl of my dreams. But, the most important identity I want to be recognized for is that I am a living human being, and no realization can ever be greater than that. I am a life form having an experience as a human being on a planet rotating on its own axis, in space with countless other planets grouped in galaxies that form the visible universe.
There are other countless life forms on the very planet where I belong. Some live within my body. Others are hosted by my skin, where there’s an ecosystem of life forms. Some other life forms other than human beings are scattered around the globe. I am the awareness beyond the thinking mind. I am life itself. I am one with the energy that brightens the sun and the stars. I am one with water, fire, earth, and other elements. I am one with the energy in the atoms that make up my body. I am one with existence itself. I am beyond everything happening as they are happening in the awareness that I am. I am beyond any verbal description because I can’t use the language created by my kind to describe who I am since it’d be like a knife trying to cut itself.
Other human beings are also described as just that white guy or this homeless man. Some girls are defined by just the size of their asses. Some men are represented by just the digits on their bank account. Other people are just described by the size of their bodies. Others are just defined by their genders. We have removed the source of life in our conversation. Every one of us is fighting to protect and maintain the illusory identity given to us. If you say anything about anyone’s identity, it’s like you are threatening the very existence of that being.
The homeless guy down the street is just homeless in many people’s eyes. He is not seen as the veteran who fought for the freedom that he is. A young woman somewhere is seen as just a stripper, instead of a mother trying to feed her children, that she is. They throw stones at her and ignore the fact that there’s no stripping without the audience. Some people are made to believe that they are just these little helpless creatures on a planet infested with sin. They have been convinced that they are suffering so that, one day, they will go somewhere where everything is perfect one day. I wonder if the pope is also looking forward to going there. Is he also looking to going where there is neither poverty nor racism? I mean, basically, the place where he wouldn’t have to go to the job he hates so that he can survive to keep the job-eat-sleep routine. Does he want to leave this place where his actions are appreciated and impact real people? I wonder how the queen feels about living on this earth as if she was only on transit towards another place.
I can’t imagine how I would feel if the whole world agreed that I own one-sixth of the entire land on the planet. I wonder if I would feel like I’m living a life that I so deserve. I wouldn’t like to always be surrounded by the people saying that they dedicated their lives to protect mine, always looking over my shoulder, watching who might threaten the life and position that I am so deserving of having. I wonder how the homeless guy who fought the war in Vietnam feels about his life. I wonder if he thinks that he fought a worthy battle. I wonder how thankful he is for the freedom that he has. I wonder how that kid in the slums of Kibera feels about the life he’s living; I wonder whom he blames for the poverty in his family. I wonder how Zuckerberg feels about his life; I wonder if he’s aware of the kids who take their lives because they didn’t get enough likes on what they post on the platform he created.
I am grateful for the people who love me without expecting to gain anything back from me. I am thankful for the teachers who have given me the knowledge even though I was a complicated student. I am grateful to my family for always being there for me. I am thankful for my friends for always putting a smile on my face and for all our insightful conversations. I am grateful for all the women that are used as a channel for creation. I am thankful for all the farmers that make sure we have what to eat. Conclusively, I am grateful for every human interaction I have had.
I wish everyone was given love. I wish everyone’s beauty was appreciated. I wish everyone’s life was deemed essential for the survival of humankind as one body that it is. I wish the fate of humanity weren’t dictated by a few. I wish everyone knew that there shall be a point in time where we shall all exist as just memories or letters on some pages in the library or some pixels of a picture on a digital cloud. Maybe then, we will know how to humble ourselves. Maybe then, we will understand that nothing matters. Yes, you heard me right. It does matter. Our nothingness matters, because before something, there was nothing. Then, our nothingness can turn into anything, and almost everything.
By David Livingstone Gashagaza