On Being Human

On being human.jpg

In all of the paranormal fantasy I read, the existence of the supernatural serves as a foil to highlight what it means to be human. Currently, I’m reading Angel’s Blood in the Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh. This is a particularly clever series with a very interesting world inhabited by angels, archangels, and vampires. Definitely different from many of the other series I’ve read. One of the best parts of this book is the description of the archangel Raphael, one of the major players in the series. To begin with, he’s inhumanly beautiful, of course. He’s also powerful and has a number of supernatural abilities, not the least of which is the gift of flight. He can also throw fireballs out of his hands. Not too shabby.   Oh, and he can shed angel dust that acts as an aphrodisiac. Orgasm on stick.

So, of course, he is wildly attractive to our heroine, Elena, who is a Vampire Hunter (in many of my favorite books, the female lead is a warrior, a strong and successful hunter, which is something I love and about which I will have a lot more to say in the future). But, Elena is quite hesitant to get involved with Rafael precisely because of his extraordinary attributes.   He is so clearly superhuman that it gives Elena pause.

The inter-species nature of this pairing certainly isn’t anything new in paranormal fiction. Often, when a supernatural being chooses to mate with a human, the human has a little something extra, like Sookie’s telepathy or Michaela’s fae- seeing ability in the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning. In the book I’m now reading, Elena is ”Hunter-born,” with the ability to scent vampires, which comes in handy when hunting them. The message here is that it requires a little something-something to run with the big dogs, which is probably true in real life as well. 

Today, however, I’m interested in exploring the inhumanity of the archangels in the Guild Hunter series to see what it has to say about our own human condition. One of the effects of immortality, or near immortality (archangels can only be killed by other archangels), is that the older they get the less they can relate to what it’s like to be human or mortal. Apparently, being human is synonymous with caring, compassion, and empathy (I’m not sure about this, given the nightly news these days, but we’ll go with that premise, for now). Without exception, and in all of these fantasy books, inhumanity is equated with apathy, and it is almost always the price of immortality. Unless the supernatural beings can be saved by love– often the love of a human who shows them the path back from the brink—they are lost—monstrosities without conscience or sympathy.

In Angel’s Blood, Raphael asks himself, whether the humanity that Elena glimpses in him will be enough to save him. It’s an interesting concept isn’t it? It’s also a good question to ask ourselves: are we human enough to save ourselves? Have we nurtured that heart of connection and compassion that is the gift of our humanity? Or have we covered it up with anger and bitterness and a burning sense of the unfairness of the world? Humanity in this definition is the ability to think past ourselves. To put the needs of others ahead of our own.  To sacrifice our wants, desires, pleasure, and ease for a greater purpose. Because that is what immortals seem to lose over the course of their long lives: the ability to be unselfish, the concept that in selflessness we actually get more of what we really want and need in life.

Many of us forget this, myself included. For those of us who are partnered, we often begin the relationship with lots willingness to put our partner’s needs ahead of our own. We wake up first to bring our beloved coffee in bed; we remember to say thank you for the daily courtesies (which we actually practice); we are willing to engage in activities we otherwise wouldn’t, because our love enjoys them.

But then that changes over time, as if the passage of days dilutes our humanity, just like in my beloved books. The longer the relationship, the less inclined we are to be selfless and the more self-centered we become. We stop doing all of the little niceties in which we delighted during the courtship and honeymoon phases. We decide not to bother to make an extra stop after work to pick up our partner’s dry cleaning, reasoning that we’re tired and that they can do it themselves. We stop going to hockey games or romcom movies because, hey, we never liked them anyway. And in doing all this, we chip away at our humanity and give way to that which is less human, but nevertheless resides in all of us– our low selves, our animal natures, whatever we want to call it.

So, we must ask our own reflections, are we human enough to save ourselves from the fate of the immortals? Can we nurture our humanity and fan the flames of our passions? I don’t know, to be honest. It is so hard to keep humanity alive amidst the daily demands of the march of days. But we need to try. We need not to go gentle into that good night. We need to hold onto the parts that make us human. Which includes an inexorable drive towards death, reminding us that time is fleeting, and we may not have tomorrow. Now is the time to embrace our humanity and save ourselves.  Because none of us is going to live forever.  And who would want to act like we were, anyway?