October 08, 2011 | By: Andrew Centofante | Tags: travel
Yes… that is me talking with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and this is the story behind the photo.
I had just returned from Habitat for Humanity and ran to my room to shower before the reception. I got in line and anxiously waited for my moment with this historic spiritual leader. I was nervous, palms sweating, wondering what I was going to say. I mean, what do you say to the Archbishop? “Thanks for being great!” I couldn’t believe that he was actually here and that I was going to be lucky enough to meet him.
I started the conversation off by saying that I had spent the other day with his colleague Bishop Peter Storey and how he took us around Cape Town and District 6. How he had really brought apartheid to life for me and how I got to hear first hand about how Tutu and others had helped end that oppression. I said, “Thank you for all you have done and for being such an inspirational figure.” Not too shabby, I thought. He mentioned something about how Bishop Storey was a good man and how they had worked together for a long time. Then he looked straight at me.
“Are you a Methodist?” I was a little caught off guard and I answered “I am a Christian.” “Yes, but are you a Methodist?” “Oh, um, no… I am non-denominational,” I nervously replied. He looked at me and rolled his eyes. “Oh!” he yelped. He threw both hands into the air as if he couldn’t believe it. He looked at me again. I didn’t know what to say or do so I just kept nervously smiling. “OH!” he yelped again and threw his hands in the air again, this time as if he was shooing me away. I didn’t know if it meant my time was done and that he didn’t want to talk to me anymore. He stared at me. I couldn’t move. He then leaned in towards me and said “Well, we will see if you are there” and he looked upwards “when this has passed.” He kept staring at me. I didn’t stop smiling. My face had turned bright red. “Um… I guess so.” I sheepishly said. Silence. The only thing I could think to say was “Can we take a photo together?” He nodded and I held out my camera. It beeped angrily at me and then stopped working. I anxiously tried again and again to no avail. He didn’t seem too amused and neither did the line of people behind me. I thanked him and quickly walked away.
It was an embarrassing moment to say the least. I had blown it! I couldn’t say anything, just sit there with a dumb grin on my face. Then it really started to bummed me out. Here was this great spiritual leader… a man who had done so much for so many, someone I looked up to and was inspired by… condemning me because I wasn’t a Methodist?! Now, I know there was probably more jest in his tone than I remember, but it didn’t feel great being judged on the spot, especially by someone as important as Desmond Tutu. I thought, how could this great uniter so carelessly try to divide. It didn’t make sense.
Later, Jane said that maybe he was back home thinking about me and wondering if he could have said what he had differently. She said that he was just looking out for my eternal soul. It made me feel better, thinking of him in his room feeling the other side of what I felt. While I doubt he gave it a second thought, it was a reminder that we are all human. How we all say things and usually have no idea how it is interpreted by others. That our intentions can be good even when it doesn’t play out that way. That when we give people importance we give them power too. That we can all be embarrassed. It reminded me that we are all subject to this strange human condition. That people are people, no matter what.
I’ll never really know how he felt about the whole thing, but he made me think. Luckily, the photographer snapped this shot at the perfect moment and I now have a great photo with a great man. It will be my reminder.
Photo by: Spencer Weiner