Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
September 27, 1999
Being human different than achieving success
School has started, camping equipment has been stored, and everyone is back at work trying to fit into the old routine.
Memories of special moments will sustain us through the dark months ahead. We all have a favourite memory to buoy our spirits when we get stuck in a midwinter traffic jam.
I saw an old pensioner mow the grass. Round and round the lawn he went, silently and shoulders bent, pushing patiently the bright red chopper with its whirling blade and bulging bag of fresh green clippings.
His movements, born of long experience, revealed a tranquil peace. And with assurance in each step, he manoeuvred man and mad machine up the slope along the flower bed and down again to the edge of the sidewalk where he changed hands.
Now pushing the mower with his left and reaching with his right behind him for the trusting clasp of his dependent son, who followed him with bended knees and head and shoulders leaning back, in the peculiar gait of those who see and sense what most of us cannot envision.
For 30 years, perhaps each summer week, they paced the lawn as private pilgrims, I see them still, although I only saw them briefly through the window of my passing car. The son, excitement in his laughing eyes, trusting the loving hand that led him round and up and down, following the father and the mulching mower.
It was a fleeting image, but I remember the childlike joy stretching the young man's lips. Not worried that his sounds of glee were drowned out by technology, but singing tenor to its bass, he squealed in harmony.
A year ago, in the summer of 1998, Jean Vanier spoke about Becoming Human as part of the CBC Massey Lecture series. Vanier revealed that "strangely enough, the process of becoming human occurred most profoundly for me when I started living with men and women with intellectual disabilities and not very capable on the practical level, but who are very gifted in relationships."
He speaks about the "liberation of the human heart from those fears that provoke us to exclude and reject others."
Few people can speak with absolute honesty about these matters. For many, perhaps most of us, all-encompassing love remains in the realm of theory.
Vanier, however, speaks with a quiet wisdom backed by many years of living and learning. He does not preach at us, but simply shares his discoveries.
How is it that the weak and excluded can teach us how to become human when every societal impulse leads us to emulate the stars, the heroes, the models, the brave, the bold, the powerful and privileged?
Our glossy magazines are filled with the images of the rich and famous. Our history books detail their exploits. Monuments in their honour can be found in city parks and squares. Their names are engraved on our streets and buildings.
I once asked Gustavo Gutierrez, who spoke about sacrificing our privileges as a necessary means to connect with the "insignificant" people in our societies, whether he was prepared to give up his significance. There was an audible groan in the audience which took me off guard and I missed his answer.
The auditorium was filled with people who came to listen to him precisely because of his significance.
Gustavo had made contact with the excluded and rejected in our society, the people we fear but love to hear about. This had set him apart from a culture which is inclined to marginalize ever-larger proportions of the population so that the strongest may succeed in fulfilling their ambitions.
Becoming human is obviously different from achieving success. I'll be thinking of the father and son mowing team.
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