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The Amazing Humans

October 1, 2014

The other day, I asked my friend what she thought was the essence of being human. I said to her, “Say you encountered an alien, and it asked you what a human being was. What would you say?”

The first thing she said was “Well, I think human beings are extremely intelligent beings.” I let her continue with with her train of thought.

“I don’t agree” I had said after she had finished.

You know, I’m a very optimistic person. I’m also a very happy and joyful person. I think the world is a wonderful place, and I think life can really be beautiful.

But then there are lapses of time when all of the meanness of the world gets me down. I went to see a documentary called “Black Code” last Thursday about the busiest emergency room in the United States. There was one particular scene that shook me to the core.

A social worker and doctor takes a woman to a private room. The door closes. The camera is out in the hallway, and although you can’t see what’s going on, you can hear what’s being said in the room. A man walks down the hallway. He passes the door, just as you–not he–hear the social worker tell the woman her mother has just died, and now she is sobbing. The man continues to walk down the hallway, oblivious to the fact that someone has just died, and someone else’s world has just come crashing down.

That scene really made me think of all of the moments in my life when I was walking down a hallway, or down the sidewalk, or down a grocery aisle… oblivious to the fact that someone out there was currently suffering.

And then I think about the other evils in the world. Diseases. War. So many more. And all of it consumes me until I think that all humans are evil and bad for the planet, universe, galaxy. For the animals. For nature. For each other. And then I say things like “I don’t agree” to “I think humans are extremely intelligent beings.”

But then there are moments. There are these moments when I am reminded of how great humans are. Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Frederick Banting and Charles Best, Rosa Parks, Mary Wollstonecraft, and my social studies prof who tells us that we can change the world and need to change it, and so, so, SO many more.

Instead of thinking about the number of deaths in the LA County emergency room, I try to think about the number of lives saved. I think about the doctors who are really doing good stuff.

At the ROM, in front of a fully reconstructed dinosaur skeleton, I am amazed at our minds. How? I ask myself. How do we know this stuff? 

And when I log onto the internet and know that information is just a click away, I am amazed.

And when I’m sitting at Koerner Hall, like I was tonight, listening to a violin virtuoso, playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons recomposed by Max Richter, I am floored. I am wowed. I am AMAZED. It is when I am floating in the contemplative sadness of the second movement of Summer that I acknowledge the tragedy of being human.

But it is when I am shaking my head wildly with the third movement of Summer that I am crazed and reenergized, and I think, “Holy cow! Humans are amazing.” How can someone play that? How can someone compose that? How can someone recompose that?

But if he and she can do it, and they are human, and so am I… well, that means that I can do it too.

And if someone can stand up for women’s rights and a country’s freedom, or bring joy to millions of people through music, or be compassionate and helpful to others… well, that means that I can do it too.

You just really had to be there (the 17 and 20 minute marks are my favourite–Summer, mvt. II & III; other notables: Winter at 36 minutes; ending at 39 minutes). By far, the best concert I have ever been to.

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