Finding Our Humanity: Exploring What It Means to Be Alive
One way to discover what it means to be alive and counteract the effort to dehumanize is to intentionally seek and cultivate the humanity in both us and those around us.
Jan 11, 2024
There have been numerous protests for the right to life. For over three months, the Palestinian people have been under siege, a 75-year-old besiegement happening live for the world to see. The Sudanese war has displaced millions of people. The people of Congo are also experiencing a crisis because of war. This is to name only a few of the atrocities happening in the world right now. There are the Uyghur people in threat in China and the Rohingya people escaping persecution in Myanmar and so many others facing oppression and violence across the world.
I don’t know how to rationalize being able to live my life while others are spending their life wondering how they are going to eat, get the care they need, see their loved ones, wake up in the morning, bury their children, spouses, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts. Many others have been unalived and will never see the sun rise, their daughter laugh, their parents grow old, let alone dream of a better world. Some argue that life has always been this ruthless. But, in the comfort of the life I have the immense fortune to live, I don’t only get to glimpse a better world, a safe world, I get to live it. So, I know firsthand that it’s possible (with the full awareness that the comforts of a first-world country have been built upon the oppression of others, which is another travesty I must acknowledge).
At the end of a miraculous trail of fortunate events, each one of us is born into a life that is both blessed and cursed with consciousness. It is the ability to see, consider, and reflect upon us and the world. We have this uncanny ability to grapple and to observe others grapple with the world’s wounding beauty. The darkness that creeps just beyond the light and the light that washes each shadow away each day, as it has for billions of years. In the short life I’ve lived, I don’t know the meaning of life, and it’s increasingly likely I will never know. I do know it’s not this brutality that plagues our world for greed, comforts, desires. I’ve seen the skin burned from the bodies of babies and the skinny arms of children lifting heavy stone in cobalt mines and the bloody feet of those walking and walking and walking until they find a toxic alley to turn into a makeshift bedroom because there’s nowhere else for them to go, but they must stop somewhere.
In this reality, I often feel hopeless. There are so many examples of people where people are intentionally not seen as living, breathing, valuable people who have this one miraculous choice to experience being alive. In one of the most knowledge-rich moments in modern history, we must fight for the people in power to see the needless suffering of the everyday people as an urgent, critical issue worthy of allocating time and resources to being solved. I feel hopeless because there is abundance that is poorly used. In the U.S., 80 million tons of food goes to waste while over 44 million people don’t have enough food to eat or access to healthy food; about 38 million people lived at or below the poverty line in 2021 whereas the top 722 businesses earned over $1 trillion in profitsthat same year; over 27 million people did not have health insurance in 2022 while the healthcare industry raked in billions in profits. These disparaging differences can be traced across many other aspects of life: education, taxes, housing, community development, and others. These inequities are the result of choices. Hunger is a choice. Poverty is a choice. Healthcare is a choice. War is a choice. We are unfortunately at the whim of those who daily decide not to see us as fully human and deserving of these basic comforts.
Despite this reality that can easily transform into an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, there will be one well-placed moment of kindness, connection, or beauty that will push away the approaching gloom. Children sharing their food with one another after rations run out; a group of strangers singing an unrehearsed rendition of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”; learning about the No One Should Die Alone Foundation that provides companionship for those in hospice. I don’t know what it means to be alive, but these moments of kindness and connection show me what’s important: Each other, and this sacred moment we have on Earth, some random planet, in a random galaxy that encompasses an infinitesimal area in the known universe.
Because of this, I refuse to turn away from the horrors of the world just for my own comfort. I force myself to watch because with just a few turns of events, it could be my own neighbor deciding to share or withhold food, deciding whether I will live or die. It means to keep fighting, keep resisting the “Well, this is the way it’s always been” because there are many moments in my own life that are not and have not been this way. In turn, each day I make the intentional effort to hear and see and enjoy the person or people that surround me. I intentionally search for the good: The group of friends light up with laughter after some stupid joke, to feel the sense of hope when someone lets you in after you’ve been trapped at a busy intersection, to feel the warmth of a waiter remembering not only who you are but your favorite drink, to be at the point of giving up when your grandma says, “Gracias m’ija. Tu eres la unica que siempre recuerda a traerme pan.” If anything is a reminder of what it means to be alive, it is the small, they themselves infinitesimal, glimmer that you’ve kindled a feeling of warmth, acknowledgment, appreciation in someone else.
There are people needlessly dying as I write these words. Do what you can to put an end to this:
- Write your congresspeople
- Donate to organizations
- Post, like, follow, and share their stories
- Live a simpler life
- Know where you’re buying from
Most importantly, when you look at someone, try to imagine their favorite movie, their favorite memory with their mom, the last time they cried, if they’ve ever felt grief, what it takes to make them really laugh. Imagine that they may have felt like you in the morning: Reluctant to wake up and get out of bed. Yet, they still pulled the warm covers from their body, picked their clothes for the day, brushed their teeth, washed their face, fed their dogs, packed their lunch, got into their car, and, miraculously, after billions of years of elaborate coincidence, ended up sharing the same molecules, the same moment of time with you. If we see that person as layered and as rich as we know ourselves and those we love to be, we’ll never dare mistake them as invaluable.