On Being Human

by Sigurd Westberg

We denigrate our humanity without much thought. “After all, I’m only human.” “To err is human.”

My grandson, Jeremy, was eleven years old. We were together with two of our other families (aunts, uncles, and cousins to him) in Acadia National Park in Maine. We were in a cottage and a couple of tents on a lake called Long Pond.

Early one morning Jeremy and I met on the deck of the cottage, and he began to call the loons he had seen on the lake. He gave long, loud loon calls, but they did not answer. Then he began to hoot like an owl he had seen in the trees nearby, but that was no more successful. Then I asked him, “Jeremy, what are you, anyway? Are you a loon or an owl?” He replied, “I am whatever responds” and he resumed the loon calls. By this time his mother had come to the cottage. Because some people were not up yet, she called out to him severely: “Jeremy, stop yelling!” He looked up at me and said, “Good, I’m human!”

At the zoo I see many animals that are far more beautiful and more athletic than I am, some that talk almost as well, and some that sing far better than I. But I have no desire to be any of them. I’m human.

These were God’s sentiments, too. After he had made Adam and breathed the breath of life into him, he looked at him and said, “Good, he’s human!” And he looked at everything he had made and said, “It is all very good.” And of all that he had called “very good,” Adam and Eve were the crown—they were human!

We all know, of course, that we have managed to mess up our humanity—but good! But it is nevertheless important that we are still human. Our depravity is great, but so is our humanity. Alfred North Whitehead wrote at least one little book that I am able to read, The Aims of Education. Permit me to quote a brief passage which occurs on page 77 of my paperback edition:

Moral education is impossible apart from the habitual vision of greatness. If we are not great, it does not matter what we do or what is the issue. Now the sense of greatness is an immediate intuition and not the conclusion of an argument. It is permissible for youth in the agonies of religious conversion to entertain the feeling of being a worm and no man, so long as there remains the conviction of greatness sufficient to justify the eternal wrath of God. The sense of greatness is the work of morals.

But if our humanity is great enough to justify the judgment of God, it is likewise great enough to enable us to respond to his love when he redeems us, at great cost, and restores the original creation and says again, “Good, they are human!”

I am with Jeremy, “Good, I’m human!”