1.29.2015

Oh the Humanity of it All...

My hand reached for the tarnished brass handle, frigid from the night's winter temperature.  As I slowly turned the knob I heard the first of what would be many yelps. Making my way through the garage and into the laundry room where the dog lay, I called out in a reassuring voice, "It's ok puppy, it's just me. It's going to be ok." I wasn't sure if my dialogue was meant to comfort him or myself.

The house could not have been more familiar to me. Growing up it was like a second home; each hallway and room has a memory of my teenage years embedded into the walls. I was only in the house to do some cleaning for my dear family friends, but what met me instead, was a little lesson about my own humanity.

The family dog, ripe with old age was laying on the floor, unable to lift more than his head. He had been suffering from old age for quite some time, so this wasn't exactly a shocking picture to walk in to. Still, there was something incredibly sad about seeing him in this way. He had definitely gotten worse since last seeing him. I wasn't sure if his pathetic barks were old habits of a life long guard dog or the voice of agony. At first, it seemed as though his tired bays were saying 'Courtney, Help me".

After alerting the owners to his condition, the only thing for me to do was the task which had been assigned to me, the standard dusting, vacuuming and tidying. And yet for a good ten minutes I sat by his side stroking his tired little head. I wanted to take him in my arms and rock him to permanent sleep. I wanted so badly to take away his pain, but there was nothing I could do. So, in a moment of tiny courage, I stood up and began to clean. It wasn't long before the puppy's yelps became a steady soundtrack to my cleaning; the more time that passed, the less it bothered me. And in turn, the more I was bothered. I stopped half way through dusting and silently asked myself:

"If you can condition yourself to feel nothing for this suffering, innocent animal, what does that say about your humanity?"

It haunted me the rest of the morning. Granted, the idea of humanity has been on my mind for the past few weeks. It started with my viewing of the movie 'Selma,' which largely focuses on the civil rights movement surrounding the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. It's a hard pill to swallow, that only 50 years ago our human race was ferociously divided simply by the color of skin. And yet, watching the news today sometimes feels like not much has changed. I thought while leaving the theatre:

"I'm not sure I could ever hate someone because of the color of their skin. All I see is a living, breathing human being. There is no difference between us."

Fully aware that I could never be like those people, I continued through the next few weeks.

However, that idea was somewhat disproved when I was given the opportunity to sit down and talk with a person whom I had developed some pretty negative feelings towards. There are plenty of reasons to be utterly annoyed with this woman, and I justified my anger with each one of those. The longer the time went between us talking, the more I began working under the assumption that I was much better than she was. Until we were speaking face to face and I was watching her cry. What struck me in that moment was a deep shame, a guilt for taking her humanity for granted. I wasn't judging her by her skin color, but I was certainly judging her by her flaws. No matter what I thought, no matter what she did, we were both human beings tripping through life together. I was no greater because I happened to be stumbling a bit better than she was.

"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together"
-Desmond Tutu


The definition of humanity is as follows:
1. The human race, human beings collectively.
2. The fact or condition of being human; human nature.
3. Humaneness, Benevolence
syn-compassion, brotherly love, philanthropy, kindness, consideration, understanding, sympathy, kindness.

This definition as a whole reminds me of a story told in a talk given by Jeffrey R. Holland:
"A journalist once questioned Mother Teresa of Calcutta about her hopeless task of rescuing the destitute in that city. He said that, statistically speaking, she was absolutely accomplishing nothing. This remarkable little woman shot back that her work was about love, not statistics. Notwithstanding the staggering number beyond her reach , she said she could keep the commandment to love God and her neighbor by serving those within her reach with whatever resources she had. 'What we do is nothing but a drop in the ocean,' she would say on another occasion. 'But if we didn't do it, the ocean would be one drop less than it is.' "

Is it not our job as a being in the race of humans to care for each other? "Are we not all beggars?"

In order to survive this crazy adventure called life, do we shut down our consideration, and understanding? Is it simply too much to feel everything that crosses our path? I keep trying to find the answer to how people can be incredibly heartless, and this is the best idea I can come up with. Perhaps, like my example with the dying puppy, in order to survive, in order to move forward, we all shut our humanity down... and then sometimes forget to turn it back on?


Am I truly seeing people, in their human-ness, in their beautiful and flawed humanity? Am I appreciating it? Am I taking it for granted? Am I loving them in spite of it? 

At the end of the day, if there is no time or energy left to give, the least you can do is remember:
The person sitting across from you on the bus ride home, or the man that cut you off on the highway, or the mother with the screaming children at the grocery store, or the telephone operator who cold calls your cell phone, or the government officials that you disagree with, or the person who offended you via social media, or the parents that overbear.... they are all human beings. Deserving of every ounce of compassion and love that a fellow 'participate in human nature' deserves.




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