The Essence of Being Human

I recently spent two weeks in my happiest place, Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico. The days were bathed in sunshine, the food was delicious, and the guests were enlivened by the beauty surrounding us. Everything was a wonder—the sunshine, the landscape, the joy of having my beloved son and two dear friends among the guests. For 14 days, it felt as though I had stepped into paradise.

This morning, I found myself waiting in line for my flight home at San Diego Airport, when the woman behind me received a phone call. Suddenly, she began screaming at the top of her lungs, asking, “Is he dead? Who killed him?” followed by a long wail and hysteria. Some airport staff approached and gently led her away. Her wailing filling the air, I said, “Linda, you are not at the ranch any longer.” It was a jarring reentry into another world and a stark reminder of the coexistence of wonder, trouble, beauty, horror, peace, and craziness. I realized this was a continuation of the theme I began in my November newsletter; living with so much awe and light at the same time when it seems the world is falling apart.

Now, I am back in Oregon, greeted by gray skies and cold days where daylight leaves us early to bring in the even colder evening. As we approach the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, I am confronted with a deep sense of helplessness as I read about wars and famines, endless suffering, and a country torn apart by political differences.

Alongside the images of blown-up bodies and horrific stories of loss are the holiday images so profoundly familiar to me from my long life: Christmas lights and Advent calendars, Hanukkah candles, pictures of snowflakes, images of my family with connection, humor, forgiveness, and hearts around tables laden with food and invites to parties and gatherings. How do I reconcile these with the stories of a migrant family I visited in the shelters who recounted days of terror crawling through the Darién Gap to get to America to escape crime and starvation in search of work and safety? And finding neither. The Darién Gap—over 60 miles of dense rainforest, steep mountains, and vast swamps—is the only overland path connecting Central and South America.

How do we live with such disasters if we aim to live empathetically and mindfully? Do we embrace toxic positivity, fixating solely on life’s brighter aspects only? Or do we immerse ourselves in the horrific images of the wars raging around us, forsaking our joys and perpetually reminding ourselves of others’ suffering?

Here’s what I know: the despair I feel about the world would overwhelm me if I did not seek the light and allow it to linger, granting me moments of joy and wonder. The captivating bird photos shared by a friend, Mount Kuchumaa in Tecate, Mexico, the twinkling lights my husband put around our yard, my enduring friendships through the decades, my love for my family, and the miracle of how wonderful they each are—and each of our family dogs who are their own unique miracle, these are the sources of light that wash over me.

I refuse to turn away from the world’s pain and do my small part to make it less, while I continue to seek and bask in the light. Both exist simultaneously. And I find solace in the beautiful song sung by the extraordinary kids in the PS22 Chorus singing Hallelujah.

For the beauty of Rancho La Puerta, for the woman who received the heartbreaking call, for the refugees braving treacherous paths, for the radiant faces of loved ones, this is our world, the intricate dance of shadow and light that is the essence of being human.

Warmest Wishes,