Our theme for October is “Why I Believe.”
I once read a book that called human beings “glories and shames.”
I have rarely looked at human beings in the same dimensions since.
Because we are, I think, largely more dimensional than we care to admit. Perhaps we’re quick to acknowledge the complexity of our own dimensions, and even to prod, poke, and map the terrain of our individual humanity, but I think we are often more unwilling to extend the same courtesy to our fellow sentient, soulful earth-dwellers. I’m fully aware that my psyche is more un-mappable than the Death Star, yet I treat everyone else’s like a color-by-number.
He’s mean. She’s a snob. He’s a Democrat. They’re black. He’s amazing. She’s gay. He’s a jock. She’s a dancer. They’re smart. He is gender-non-conforming.
“Human:” the connotations of the word run deep. A definition. A rationalization. An attribute. An un-plumbable well of existence.
I believe that humankind is simultaneously the most beautiful and terrible creation ever to exist. I do not think that the two can be viewed as inextricably linked; rather, the beautiful and the terrible are wholly separated as two distinct entities: oil and water. Though the two cannot, in and of themselves, unite with each other, nevertheless they are combined in a single container, and every glass has a measure of both.
I will always believe in people for their humanity: for their ability to be genuine, to be good. I will give unfathomable numbers of second chances to people who lie to me, break my trust, leave me, ignore my calls. I will believe that the lie was born of fear, the offense was bred of doubt, the slight was rooted in ignorance. I will believe all of this for two reasons. First, because humanity has delivered. Those who have torn me the most terribly are also those who have given me some of the most precious gifts. Second, because I still hold fast to the deep humanity of a once-obscure carpenter who is the root from which all goodness grows.
I have come to believe in the necessity of believing in people for the scope of their humanity outside of this man: for their ability to be fractured, to be evil, to be wrong. I think we do humankind a great disservice when we dehumanize evil. If we cannot acknowledge that each of us is capable of the same depth of harm as height of virtue, we blind ourselves to the duality of our nature since very near to the beginning. I will believe all of this for two reasons. First, because the greatest crimes committed against humanity become simple, inflated cartoons when we pretend they were executed by monsters rather than ordinary people. Second, because the oil of sin that pervades the glass is present in each of us, and we disallow the same carpenter from his most important work when we ignore the oil polluting even those dearest to ourselves.
I believe each individual is capable of the entire spectrum of good and evil, and when we do not allow ourselves to mentally travel to either end of the line, we run the risk of mislabeling evil and falling quite short of good.
One of my very good friends told me a story the other day. She told it to me in confidence, and I shouldn’t tell it to you now. I tried to change the characters and events to make them less recognizable, but I could not. I like the story too much.
She and her husband recently bought a house. It’s old, with wood floors, high ceilings, and two-sided staircases. The kitchen is yellow. The porch is open. The attic is flooded with pigeons. The birds are over-excitable, and the racket that they make at night is such that normal human beings, my friend and her husband included, have some difficulty sleeping amidst the noise. One night, after numerous counts of grumbles and pillow-punching, my friend reached the limit of her patience, remarking to her husband that the next night, she would be forced (by no fault but the pigeons’) to sleep in the guest bedroom.
The next day, she arrived home from work, a bit early, to some loud noises in the upper floors of her home. After a few moments of a cacophony that is perhaps better left undescribed, her husband emerged from the attic, holding a shovel. He had tried to get the pigeons to leave, he explained, but after countless attempts to open windows and direct avian traffic, he had regretfully decided to take another, more gruesome course of action. He had done his utmost to ensure his wife’s peace of mind, and he had not taken the duty lightly.
My favorite part of the story, and the part that really makes it worth telling, is what my friend heard as she walked up the stairs to the attic, unbeknownst to her spouse. Before the swing-thud of each shovel blow, she heard him apologize, sincerely and individually, to each and every pigeon.
I don’t tell this story because I think that I can clearly point to any isolated instance of good or evil, but because I think it’s one of the most human stories I’ve ever heard. We are created, each of us, a glory and a shame. We are complex. We are unique. We are created. We can no longer afford to see each other as linear, simple, or black-and-white. We must believe in humanity’s darkness. We must believe in humanity’s light. We must believe that we are all sliding up and down the scale each day, wobbling closer to the top only by the grace of the carpenter.
Lauren (Boersma) Harris (’13) is a spontaneous, idealistic, independent, fierce, over-thinking, damaged, adventurous, ordinary megalomaniac with a healthy sense of self-worth and a high word count. She has been a teacher both indoors and outdoors; she loves improvised comedy, backpacking, and writing, even when it’s required.