How Human Are You?

What is it to be human? Love. Suffering. Joy. Death. These are all present in the paradox we call life. Many experience one characteristic more than others, but all know something of each.tolstoy1

Such facets of life are woven within Tolstoy’s masterpiece War and Peace. The distinct theme I recognized is the conjunction of these facets of life which seem—separated from each other—juxtaposed, but which all work together to turn a man named Andrei’s gaze inward such that he learns what it is to be human and consequently how to really love. He recognizes his desire for the transcendental ultimately through his encounters with the many sides of life–and discovers that it is his eternal soul causing this longing. What struck me most profoundly was the following musing of this man who has just watched his worst enemy suffer terribly during wartime:

“I experienced the feeling of love, which is the very essence of the soul and which needs no object. To love my neighbors, to love my enemies. To love everything—to love God in all His manifestations. You can love a person dear to you with a human love, but an enemy can only be loved with divine love. Loving with a human love, one can pass from love to hatred; but divine love cannot change. Nothing, not even death, nothing can destroy it. It is the essence of the soul.”

This love which needs no object is what underlies all of life. Learning to love—through suffering and through experience—is how we fully realize our natures. It is how we come to understand the reality in which we have found ourselves. And this has been left behind in our overly rational (and yet irrationally emotional) culture.

OBVxr22836I find underlying every modern dialogue the need to quantify everything and fit it all into a box which is intelligible and manageable. This is safe and gives us something to hide behind. But it is  also dehumanizing because it refuses to acknowledge we are more than just our reason. There are some things that cannot be taught or explained by the sciences or pure reason. There are some things that only experience individually–colored by one person’s unique personality, experiences, and circumstances. And this sort of learning—the kind that transcends the intellect and cannot be fully articulated—this is what our country needs.