Today, Life As A Human starts, at least here, in a birthing room with no definable walls. If we had a hospital bracelet, it might say lifeasahuman.com. Elsewhere on this planet, about 250 babies a minute are being born, beginning their lives as humans. Each one will have a unique story to contribute to the tale of humanity. So it’s time to cut the cord. Ring the bell. Send out announcements. Life As a Human has begun. — Kerry Slavens, Editor in Chief, Life As A Human
As far as I know, I am a human. Last time I had an MRI, nobody saw anything alien in my body — or at least nothing that worried them. My blood tests don’t raise eyebrows. It appears my human-ness is valid.
There was no entry visa required to be human — no test to fill out. I simply arrived on this planet one morning in February, slipping out of my mother into the hands of a midwife. In those days, being born to a midwife rather than in a hospital generally meant the family was poor, not holistically savvy. I did not have a silver spoon in my mouth. I did, however, have stars in my eyes.
An unknown author once wrote, “Life is a whim of several billion cells to be you for a while.” I don’t think I agree. In my better moments, I believe I chose to come here, that I met with the ethereal career planners and said: “In this life I will be blonde (even if it eventually comes from a bottle), blue eyed, rebellious, insanely curious, and a writer.”
In these moments, I believe I came here to experience what it’s like to have a body, to know profound joy and pain, and to hopefully inch toward enlightenment.
I don’t always like being a human. At times, it embarrasses me. Once, while visiting a zoo, I paused for a long while to watch a female mountain gorilla. She sat like a furry Buddha in her phony “wild kingdom,” staring at me with huge brown eyes. There was no condemnation in those eyes, only resignation, the kind I’ve seen in humans with no hope.
A group of schoolboys passed by. “Hey, King Kong,” they yelled at the gorilla, banging sticks against her window and tossing popcorn and pebbles. Genetically, these boys are about 98% similar to her. With me, they share about 99.7% of their genes. Yet at this moment, I feel closer to the majestic gorilla who is not human.
“I’m sorry,” I said to the gorilla. “Not all humans are the same.”
Or are we? Often, I struggle with the Buddhist concept that we are “all one”. Sometimes I rebel against it. I don’t want to be one with the pedophile, or the greed-fueled Wall Street banker, or the mercenaries.
Yet I share the same genetic building blocks as them. Several billion cells conspire to make us the same species — 99.7% the same. But just as only a genetic sliver of a percentage distinguishes us from the great apes, the .3% of difference within the human species allows for endless variation between us, and brings up endless questions about “What does it mean to be human?”
As I sit writing this post, the earthquake in Haiti has just occurred. Bodies lie on the streets in Port-au-Prince, some covered in sheets, others under cardboard or, worse still, decaying openly. I watch a Haitian man with tears running down his face bulldozing the bodies of his countrymen by the hundreds into mass graves. Arms and legs of men, women and children tangle in a final bruised embrace.
This almost incomprehensible disaster will bring out the worst in humans, and the best. There will be acts of desperation based on great fear, and acts of love based on great hope.
“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks,” writes poet Rainer Maria Rilke, “the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
Like Rilke, I grapple with this. I question why I am able to feel love for humanity, but not always for individual humans. Like many of us, I give in occasionally to judgments, pettiness, fear. I want to love everyone. I’m not there yet, I know, but I try to feel compassion, even for those whose actions I cannot come to terms with.
I suppose the best I can do, we can do, is to aspire. As humans, we have been given — by genetic accident or cosmic design — the ability to look in the mirror and recognize ourselves, something we share with elephants, dolphins and gorillas. Not all animals, and we are certainly animals, can do this.
As such, we have been given the power to reflect, to learn, to hope, to overcome — to be humane.
As Ovid wrote, “Those things that nature denied to human sight, she revealed to the eyes of the soul.”
“Hey You!” Calmtwood @ flickr. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.
“Human Genome to Genes” Wikicommons