There is a
wonderful terrible book that I love to read. It’s called The Host by Stephanie Meyer (yes, the twilight series author). It’s about a parasitic alien who searches out her human host’s lover because she becomes sympathetic to it’s humanity. It’s underdeveloped, and fluffy. It’s predictable in many ways. It’s a beautiful flawless, but shallow depiction of what is it to be human. The alien is a non-violent, naive, pure being; while humans seem to her to be violent, hateful, and heavily polluted. The alien views the world in black and white until she encounters love and the world becomes a series of gray shades. Though she has lived for hundreds of thousands of years and many lives, the alien is willing to die to do justice to this one vibrant, intense, infuriating and inevitably violent life.
And every time I read this book (yes, I’ve read it several times), I like to think about what we think it means to be human. There are sayings like “I’m only human” and words like inhumane that seem to contradict each other. And death. What about death and dying? The lines that we walk when dealing with the dying of the light push the boundaries of what it is to be human and humane. And of our separation from the animals? Is it love? Hate? Consciousness of the divine? Of something more than our needs and instead decision making on wants, desires, well-being of others? Is being human something that lifts us up or drags us down? Not even the English language can seem to decide which it is, and neither can I.
With the passing of both of my great grandparents this year, I can see how caretakers can shorten life out of mercy. Not forcing the person to wake up and eat if they are drifting into oblivion. Not allowing machines to preserve the motions of life when the person is already gone. That is humane. But of the people who are fading, when are they no longer… human? We sometimes refer to people who are no longer ‘there’ as vegetables. Is the fact that we can detect no brain waves conclusive proof that their ‘humanness’ is gone?
When it comes to our shortcomings we claim that we are ‘only human,’ but there is a point at which our shortcomings become inhumane. Where is that lines? Is it in violence like the alien in the book believes before the gray enters her life? Is violence permissible, even required of humanity in defense of love or those we love? Or is it our sacrifice of self that is the epitome of humanity as the alien later concludes? Do we have to participate in or refuse to participate in violence when love is concerned.
What is the fundamental difference between us and the animals? Is our ability to question what makes us human? Is it our ability to as Tillich says, ask the religious question “is there more to life than this?” that makes us human? Is it our ability to live beyond our base needs and can put others needs and wants before own? Is it perhaps our ability to adapt and change roles?
When do we become human? With utter disregard to legality and politicking, when do we become human? One day I went in to our nursery to pick up my son and he reached up to grab my shoulders and clung on. just then I thought to myself that he was truly a little human now. Not just a baby, not an infant but a human who can communicate a wide range of wants through more than just one medium. What do you think? What makes us human? Where does ‘humanness’ end?