As I carried my groceries to the counter at Maple Market, Lucy, the proprietor was speaking to one of the staff. In the conversation I heard a word repeated several times that sounded like umi and asked her what it meant.
Lucy explained that she speaks Cantonese but the new staff member speaks Mandarin so she was repeating the Cantonese word for sweet corn.
As she checked and packed our purchases, we talked about words and agreed that umi (youme), meaning you and me in a stronger way than "us," would be a valuable addition to the English language.
I have noted before that many of the most powerful words are the short ones: love, hate, they and them; him, her and you, we and me and the single-letter word, I.
I know that the world is divided into them and us, but it would be a kinder, gentler world if we emphasized words that connected rather than divided.
As I left Maple Market, I couldn't stop thinking of the word I had heard. It repeated itself over and over, umi, umi, umi, youme. That I had heard it in a language I didn't know; that it had nothing to do with love or hate or world politics, made it somehow even more important.
It was a spoken sound that could contain two opposite ideas, for and against, left and right, east and west, peace and war, them and us.
A two-syllabled sound. Umi.
I thought about the raucous posturing during the lead up to the U.S. election. The bellicose strutting of the Republicans whose stated intention was to bring down the president, no matter who he is or what he has achieved. No matter what he might well achieve in a second term given the chance, the might of the right wished his destruction and the destruction of everything he has done for the American people.
And the Republican party leader tried to persuade the American people to help him do it.
A chasm has opened in the United States far worse than any caused by earthquakes, even the big ones. After an earthquake, roads and dwellings can be rebuilt. As time passes, local businesses reopen, children go back to school and life takes on its regular beat.
But the split between the right and the left in the U.S. will be much harder to repair and healing is a long way off.
The recent death of a young girl who had been separated from her friends and classmates by bullies, was a tragic and heart rending example of them and us.
Once the bullies had decided that she didn't belong, they hounded her until she could bear it no longer and, after a final plea for understanding, she brought her betrayed life to an end. Just one umi might have saved her.
Three days from today we will gather to remember the ultimate separation, war, and the willingness to destroy women, men, and children simply because they are on the other side of an artificial line. Them and us.
I know we can't change the way so much of the world is divided by nationality, religion, and politics but, in our daily lives, we can change our thinking about the world, and ordinary people