A Well-Lit Path: A Blog from Westtown School

I Am Because We Are

Posted by Maria Alonso on August 4, 2020

Westtown School CampusLiving on the six hundred acres that comprises Westtown School’s  campus is an absolute gift. I have the privilege of walking through myriad paths and trails on the campus each and every day. It is during these walks that I do my deepest thinking, ponderings, and wonderings about most any aspect of life. The other day I set out my walk with a rather simple question: What does the world need right now?  My question was  prompted both by the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and the recent —though long-standing— battle against racism in our country.  For the first ten minutes or so, my brain rambled and came up with a number of “heady” responses, none of which informed my gut that it was an “aha” moment or a meaningful revelation of any sort. So I decided to shut down my “monkey brain,” as many meditation teachers call our active noise-making noggins, and focused my attention on the winding path beneath my feet. When I choose to quiet my mind,  it is not uncommon for songs to pop up out of nowhere. My childhood memories are filled with music and song as I come from a very musical ancestry; my maternal aunts and uncles were the Cuban version of the VonTrapp family in The Sound of Music. I began to hum a tune that my mother would harmonize to when I was a child. My mother, Antonia, had this uncanny ability to harmonize to anything that possessed a melody and so her voice echoed in my ear:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It's the only thing that there's just too little of

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

No not just for some but for everyone.”

-Words by H. David and Music by Bacarach in 1965

“What’s love got to do with it?”...and yes Tina Turner joined me momentarily. While I chuckled to myself nonjudgmentally and told my brain to settle down, the truth is How can love address the question of what does the word need right now? Let’s face it, there are citizens in states around this country that believe it is their right to walk around during a pandemic without a mask in spite of medical advice. The message as I see it is: “I do not care about you and I live to meet my needs regardless of the consequences to you.” Moreover, our country has been battling racism for too long and the abuse and injustices continue. Whether by word or by action, people of color continue to suffer the impact of systemic racism in the United States. The message here again is: “I do not care about my neighbor of color and live only to serve my needs regardless of the consequences to them”  How on earth can love move the needle on either of these situations?

What came to me was the word Ubuntu, an African concept that informs the fundamental aspects of living for people which includes, among other things, love, courage, compassion, and connection. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “It is perhaps one of the greatest gifts that Africa has offered the world and yet so few people know about it.” Ubuntu literally translates to, “I am because we are,” meaning I experience myself and my humanity because of you and your humanity.  In Ubuntu, our bond as a group is more important than any individual disagreement or divide within a community. As human beings we have the ability to look deeply into ourselves and access our values in order to understand one another and to bring about healing and bridge divides. Empathy, compassion, connection, forgiveness, faith, and love of your neighbor are some of the values related to Ubuntu. If I wear a mask, I do it for you as much as for myself. If I shelter at home or practice social distancing, I am doing so to contribute towards the decline of Covid-19 for all of us. When I simultaneously acknowledge my humanity and your humanity and that the distinction of our skin color renders you at risk of abuse and injustices, I see you, I stand for you and beside you because…”I am because you are.” What hurts you, hurts me.  

There is much more that I could say about Ubuntu and how this African-born way of seeing and being can help us find our way in the United States. If what the world needs now is love, sweet love, then we need a lens to help us connect our heads to our hearts. My walk that day ended with a memory of David, my first patient who was five years old and lived with severe autism.  David loved gymnastics, Milky Way bars, and singing songs (the only time he would utter a word was through song). I was desperate to connect with him and he had rejected every attempt I had made thus far, including playing the guitar and the piano with him or joining him doing round-offs and back handsprings (yes, I was capable of such moves in my mid-twenties). I decided one afternoon to take a walk with him in a bustling Bronx neighborhood, in search of the Milky Way.

The first store we visited sold every chocolate bar you can think of, but there wasn’t one Milky Way to be found. I could see David’s body trembling as I scanned for another general store from inside the bodega. Suddenly, David ran out and collapsed to the ground crying and screaming on the sidewalk, “Milky Way, Milky Way, Milky Way!” I have never seen a community of individuals come together like I did that day.  There were people young, old, middle-aged, Latino, Black, Asian, wheel-chair bound and not. I was surrounded by such a beautifully rich group of people ready to lend a hand. Someone held my pocketbook while I tried every sensorimotor technique to calm David. I was offered tissues, water, a blanket and comforting words to support us both. After a few minutes, I saw an elderly gentleman with a cane in one hand waving the blessed Milky Way bar with his other hand. David looked at me as if to say, “Take it, woman!” But the best had yet to come. As I rose from the ground and thanked everyone who had stopped to love and care for an uncontrollable, desperate little boy who could not self-regulate and a scared and overwhelmed young therapist, I felt this little hand slide into the palm of my hand. I dared not to look down, so as not to overstimulate him again. As we walked away hand in hand, all of a sudden I heard this beautiful, angelic soprano voice belting out in song: 


There comes a time when we heed a certain call

When the world must come together as one

There are people dying

And it's time to lend a hand to life

The greatest gift of all


We can't go on pretending day by day

That someone, somewhere will soon make a change

We all are a part of God's great big family

And the truth, you know,

Love is all we need

 We are the world, we are the children

We are the ones who make a brighter day

So let's start giving

There's a choice we're making

We're saving our own lives

It's true we'll make a better day

  Just you and me


Topics: Raising Resilient, Healthy Teens, Inspiring the Best in Kids

Maria Alonso

Written by Maria Alonso

Dr. Maria Alonso, Westtown School’s Dean of Integrated Wellness and Learning, is a Clinical Psychologist who has over 30 years of experience working with children, adolescents and their families both in school settings and in her private practice. She has a specialty in the treatment of Eating Disorders and Trauma. Dr. Alonso has been a guest speaker at day schools and university settings in the Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York area and she has been featured on local, national and international television programs on a variety of topics related to child and adolescent development. She is deeply committed to creating school environments that nurture the development of the whole child including their physical, cognitive, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual selves. In keeping with her passion for creating thriving centers of learning, Dr. Alonso is founder of two Dual Language Immersion and Mindfulness schools in Delaware.