Humanity without the Humans

Humanity without the Humans.png

I just finished Fashionably Dead and Wed and I not only couldn't put it down, but I laughed my ass off. Which was apparently wildly inappropriate while my husband was listening to QBVII on Audible in the car seat next to me. Oh, well. He's used to my sloppy hysterical giggles when I read my beloved books. That's one of the many reasons I love him. But my mad love for my honey is not the subject of this post, or at least not directly. The subject is humanity, a topic I've explored before; because nothing prompts me faster to ponder the essence of humanity than a bunch of Vampyres, Fairies and Demons. You know, the usual suspects in a Robyn Peterman novel.   In this particular outing, one of my favorite heroines, Astrid, a True Immortal and the personification of Compassion, wants to marry her vampire prince in homage to her human heritage. As she prepares for her nuptials, Astrid decides she's made a mistake, and that clinging to her mortal past will just make her less inclined to accept her eternal life with grace and serenity. She fears being one of those women who continue to wear mini skirts well past their prime, clinging to a youth that has gone the way of all flesh. Well, perhaps that isn't the best example, as Astrid will look young and hot forever, but she doesn't want to sour on her present existence by living in the past, especially as her current incarnation will last till the end of time, what with the whole True Immortal thing.

Astrid resolutely, if sadly, decides to turn her back on her humanity, which is being represented by this wedding in Hell (long story—read the book), but she is dissuaded from her chosen path by her grandfather, who is the personification of Wisdom. He advises that she cling with all she is worth to her humanity, as it is that which will make eternity not only bearable, but also joyful. It was interesting advice that deserves some unpacking.

I think what Astrid’s grandpa was telling her was that it’s neither frivolous nor foolish to wish to mark important occasions. Such occasions cause us to stop, pause and reflect on the passage of time, that which is important to us, and that which we want to share and declare to our families, friends and the world at large. For example, I attended the Bar Mitzvah of a close friend’s son this weekend. The experience was surprisingly emotional for me on a number of different levels. First was the inevitable reminder that time is slip sliding away and I haven’t figured out much of anything yet. The second was the gut-punch of loss that I felt that my friend’s mother wasn’t there, as she passed two years ago—and how I can’t believe it’s been two years already. Third, I felt regret that I had chosen to eschew the same celebrations for my own sons, mostly because I didn’t think it would be meaningful for me, as I’m not particularly observant. I think I was wrong. And yes, they can always choose to have the ceremony later, as adults, but it won’t be the same.

Similarly, I counsel anyone who will stand still long enough to listen to go on a honeymoon immediately after their wedding. There are some couples who choose to delay their “honeymoon” till months or even years after the wedding, which I think is a big mistake. Any sort of trip that doesn’t start when the marriage does is just a vacation. Never in our lives is there a time when we are first married, when our rings are super shiny (which is how everyone in Italy knew we were newlyweds on our honeymoon almost 21 years ago), and our love is erupting from our hearts. There is nothing like it when we refer to our spouse as our “husband” or “wife.” I’ve always said that the location of the honeymoon and the activities don’t matter, as long as the couple is away from their day-to-day lives and responsibilities for a little while to savor the moment.

And isn’t that what being human is all about? Astrid talks about the meaning of life being love, and that is true as far as it goes. But what is love, in some ways, that a magnifying glass for the present moment? The moment when are hearts are so full of feeling for others and for the lives we’ve been given that there is no room to live in the past or project into the future. What better way to enhance the present moment that to mark it with rites and rituals, ceremonies and celebrations? Such activities help us with our magic magnifying glasses, spinning the focus control so that we see only that which is in front of us and surrounding us.

When I was in graduate school, I planned to skip my graduation ceremony for my master’s degree. I was in a PhD program, and figured I would attend that service if I made it. My father had recently died, and his absence would be a gaping hole in my heart as I walked across the stage and accepted my diploma. What was the point? But my favorite professor, who was my advisor, employer, friend and mentor, urged me to reconsider. He, who was forty years my senior, said that we must take every opportunity to celebrate the joys of life, to recognize our own achievements and those of others, and stop time periodically to take stock of where we are, how we got there, and where we want to go from there. It was good advice. Such moments remind us of our humanity by plastering us to the present moment and forcing us to remember—or discover—that which is important to us and that which is not.

Unlike Astrid, we don’t have forever, and we need to make every moment count. In Astrid’s case, eternity without love and an appreciation for every moment would be worse than having a wedding in Hell (you know, where her Uncle Satan lives). For us, we will reach the end of this existence all too soon. Without clinging to our humanity with everything we’ve got, we’ll have missed the entire point of the exercise.