‘Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.’ ~ Jean-Paul Sartre.
Have you ever stopped to think about how amazing the human body is? We are composed of trillions of cells, each with their own job to do. Born as common stem cells, they grow up and differentiate into specialists, performing highly technical functions that keep our bodies running smoothly. Messengers travel throughout the body keeping tabs on the workforce, making sure that the necessary tasks are being performed, communicating back and forth, keeping us in equilibrium. And don’t get me started on the brain – scientists are still uncovering the mysterious powers of that organ.
And yet we take our bodies for granted, often neglecting to provide the nourishment and good care that these individual cells require. As incredible as these individual cells, tissues and organs are, the human body as a whole is even more astonishing. We are capable of creating works of art; inventing technology that gives us instant answers; performing acts of kindness and generosity to others. But are we making the most of our talents? Are we developing, growing and evolving to meet the challenges of our times, or are we standing back, letting others run the show?
If we could see the human race as one organism, with 7 billion working parts, then perhaps we could begin to see that the health of people in a far off corner of the world is of concern to us. An untreated infected little toe can eventually become a life-threatening sepsis; in the same way, terrorist activity half a world away still has its impact on our own well-being.
It was Aristotle, over a thousand years ago, who said ‘The whole is more than the sum of its parts’. Today we are still focused on our differences and fighting for our individual rights, not seeing that underneath it all we all have the same trillions of cells trying to do their job. We are our brother’s keeper, and yet we are so focused on the material things of life we have forgotten to check on how our brother is doing.
Fortunately there are models of compassion around the world to shine their example for us. Some weeks ago I listened to an interview with Jean Vanier, a French man who founded a home called L’Arche (French for The Ark), where he gathered together people with mental disabilities. He has since set up over a hundred such communities around the world. His story was one of compassion and humility, for he says he has learned so much from the people who are often shunned in our society. He recognized that everyone needs to feel loved.
Do we see ourselves as part of a whole, part of a living organism, or are we living in isolation? The rewards that come from living outside ourselves can lift us out of our own self-absorption. Do we have a responsibility to continue to try to grow and evolve, to recognize our own shortcomings and overcome them? Many of us are happy to know that we have achieved financial security. If our children are grown and have started their own families and lives, maybe now we can relax and sit on the sidelines.
But if we see the problems of the world as having the potential to affect us, then we may be motivated to get involved in the solutions. Bill Clinton could happily retire and make thousands of dollars making an occasional speech here and there. Jimmy Carter too. But each of them has dedicated their ‘retirement’ to being involved in the problems of the world. They not only travel the world to find new projects to sponsor, they get physically immersed in the efforts. We may not have their disposable income, but locally there are organizations that need volunteers. We have infected toes in our own back yards, community organizations are always looking for help.
It is obvious that there is a wasting disease in our nation’s capital. Men (mostly) who think it is acceptable to shut the government down. Meanwhile, hundreds of hard-working police officers, nurses, fire-fighters, show up for duty knowing they will not get a pay-check. How would your bills get paid if you missed a pay-check or two? Yet what are we doing to protest this inaction? Do you know who your congressman or senator is? Have you emailed, written a letter, or made a phone call to remind them that they owe their jobs to voters?
We are more than the sum of our parts, and we need all of our parts to be working harmoniously for the country, the world, to survive. This weekend I hope you can acknowledge the wonder of your own body, and see yourself as part of the glorious whole of our human race. Pause and reflect on your own contribution. Could you do more? You may find that you then become the best person you can be, and perhaps you owe it to yourself to see just who that person is.
Have a wonderful weekend, family! Make sure you are giving those trillions of cells all that they need to keep you healthy! Reach out to others, remind yourself of your humanity, and celebrate this wonderful gift we have been given.