Our Common Humanity

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When Kelly’s sister died, I stopped sleeping.

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While the rest of the world slumbered, I stayed awake.

I lived in Prague, far from friends and family, and I needed them to lean on.  Symptoms of insomnia set on, and I started getting scared.

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One sleepy day, I plodded towards the Prague castle, tears veiled thinly behind my eyes.

In the shadow of the castle, a passerby reached out and squeezed my shoulder.

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It made no sense.  How did he know?  It was a deep connection with a stranger.  A senseless act of love.

A stranger’s encouraging word, a radically kind act, these are the things that make a person come alive.  Those seconds, maybe minutes shared, are the most beauty full ones.  

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Similarly, a few weeks later, I  hopped on a train to Berlin.  It was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I wanted to be there for it.  It poured rain that night, and after I finished carousing with a new group of friends from Australia near the Brandenburg Gate, I set out to find a church my Dad had told me to take a photo of.

“Promise on your mother’s life, you won’t rape and murder me.  PROMISE!!!”  I had bought something from a stranger, and in a gesture of kindness, he offered to let me dry my clothes and rest awhile at his apartment.  I almost didn’t go in, but I hadn’t slept in days and I was frozen.

His name was Assan.  Assan put my clothes on his heater to dry.  I fell asleep on his couch.  Not meaning to sleep there, I woke up at 3 a.m. in a panic.

He woke up, and assured me that if he wanted to kill me or rape me, he would have “done it by now.”

He wiped away my tears as I cried, as I told him about Kelly.  About how I couldn’t sleep.  By candlelight, he listened.  “Have you tried counting sheep?”

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Later, he sang me a lullaby in Arabic.  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.  He sang it over and over again until I drifted off to sleep.  And he never touched me.

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We all carry the same sorrows.  We delight in the same joys.  Each one of us wants to be happy and avoid suffering.  We all wake up in the morning, throw the covers off, brush our teeth, get dressed, and take on the day.  We all struggle through our to-do lists.  We remind ourselves of the phone calls we need to make, and the bills we need to pay.  We think there are so many things that differentiate us, but in reality, we are mostly similar.  We are, essentially, all the same. 

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Moments like the above are snapshots at what life is about.

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Humans are social animals.  It’s in our basic nature to come together as a community, form bonds, and work together in a spirit of cooperation.  To love one another.  But, we seem to have forgotten how important connection is to our nature.

We tend to band together during crises or in shared suffering, but what if we practiced supporting each other like we do in stormy waters during calm ones?

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There are so many qualities we all share.  By focusing on the commonalities between us, the undercurrents of human experience, we tap into the most important part of life.

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We always focus on the individual versus the whole.

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But as John Donne would say, “no man is an island entire of itself.”

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