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Letter to Desmond Tutu on the announcement of his retirement from public life

Dear Rev. Tutu,

I read this morning of your plans to retire and felt it necessary to convey my gratitude, not only for your work for others, but what your work has done for me, personally.

I live in the US, a world away from the challenges of life in Africa and South Africa. So, my revelations may seem mild compared to the people who you’ve seen create and recreate their redemptions in a very complicated environment.

As a kid growing up in a white, conservative, working-class family, I was well on my way to assuming the kinds of prejudices–class, racial, religious–that generations of my family had cultured and grown.

But I was not comfortable with the separations and exclusions my people felt the right to possess and affirm. We were but powerless people ourselves. We looked not to share the human and material good we had but instead to soothe our seeming inferiorities by exerting power over our tiny environment and over those with even less than we had. Loosed into the world as a late-teen, my confusion over my sense of common humanity and the beliefs I received from family produced self-destructiveness. I became more selfish and angry, yet, also more desirous of revealing the good I possessed and my good intentions and wishes for the comfort and prosperity of others.

Sometime in the late-1980s or very early-1990s, you came to my town, Kansas City. During your visit here, you spoke at my college (UMKC). I was still unsure—throw off the yokes of tradition and belief or believe in the common humanity I was feeling more and more strongly every day.

When you came to Kansas City, I had been involved in the anti-apartheid boycotts but had not quite matured into a truly independent, loving, and understanding person.

Your short presentation at UMKC changed everything for me. I mean, here was a man who had seen how brutal people could be to one another. Yet, he forgave and showed deep love for the people that worked against him, harmed him, themselves, and their common society. I left the room and disappeared someplace because I was crying. I realized then that though I wanted that kind of love and understanding. The epiphany for me was that these very human capabilities were always there for me, always available, and always enough. But such things are not possessed. They must be given away.

Much has happened since that time. Good or bad, easy or difficult, times are so much easier when I am at the service of others. In fact, like many people, I used to wonder about the meaning and purpose of this life. But no more. I saw in your eyes, heard in your gentle voice, saw in the way that you greeted everyone at the event–and later in your books, in newscasts, interviews, etc.–that the true meaning of life, for me, anyway, is to make the journey of others through this world easier.

More importantly, I don’t think I am alone in coming to this realization. I imagine there are a million “mes” out there. Their communities, like mine, are better places for your effort.

I wish you all the best, now and in the future. Thanks for helping and being there for me.

Yours, sincerely,
Patrick Dobson

1717 Jarboe St.
Kansas City, MO USA 64108

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