I remember when my older brother described having conversations with his daughter about big topics. He referenced the chat he had with her as she was beginning to learn about the bombing of Hiroshima. Listening to her awakening as an up-and-coming adult gave him pause. It was a chance to reflect on where his views and priorities lay. What was it that he had passed along? How had he impacted his little girl's world view?
found myself in a similar situation this week, as I was engaged in a
discussion of Humanity with my sixteen-year-old son. Such a big idea, it
came with a capital letter. Such a big idea that it could be a major in
college. His English class was reading Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." It was his teacher's idea to ask his students about their personal experience and reflect on what it might take for anyone to lose their humanity. Or diminish it in some way. What makes us less human? Pretty deep stuff for a high school junior, but I was surprised by how much thought he had already given it when I heard him talk about his response.
"I think experiencing loss can make you lose your humanity," he said. He said this with a great deal of certainty. I know that he had been thinking about grief and its attendant concerns since the death of our dog a couple of weeks ago. I wondered if being a sixteen-year-old boy made it difficult to feel human as he mourned. The past couple of years have been a rough introduction for him in terms of losing those close to him. His great aunt passed away suddenly last year, and his uncle's dogs both died within a few months of one another. These were attachments that he didn't talk a lot about, but he has always felt things deeply without having to wear those feelings on his sleeve. Something about still waters running deep.
This is why I had to consider what he said for his truth. As his father, it worried me that I hadn't done enough to prepare him for the tough times that life had to offer. How could I have made him ready to lose the people and things closest to him? I certainly didn't do a great job of insulating from it.
And now he was losing his humanity. He went on: "When you experience a great loss, you eventually become numb." Numb? My parental circuits were overloaded. How could he be numb? Hadn't we given him plenty of opportunities to express his grief? Did I ever tell him that it wasn't okay to show his feelings?
No. The reality check came as we continued our conversation and I asked him if he thought that maybe in those moments of loss that we might have a chance to feel with those things that make us more human: love, friendship, connection. Weren't these the bedrocks of Humanity. The capital H.
"I hadn't really thought about that," he looked at me with eyes that had seen it all, at least for the past sixteen years. "Let me get back to you on that."
I'm anxiously awaiting that response.