How to Human
If you say the year 2020 out loud these days, you will likely get a visceral reaction from most people who lived through that year. Try it. Walk up to someone in your house or apartment or neighborhood and say, “Look me in the eyes. I want you to say the first word that comes to mind when I say what I’m going to say. Okay? Ready?”
Take a moment and then say, “2020.”
I promise you there will be a reaction of some kind. I’m not sure there’s ever been a number that elicits such a unified response of disgust. I just tried it with my kids. Ready to hear their one-word responses?
My oldest daughter replied, “Ugh.” Not the most poetic answer, but I didn’t raise poets. It’s okay. My middle child responded with the word sucked. Okay. I started to see a trend. My third and youngest kid said, well . . . I can’t repeat what he said in this book. He got in a bit of trouble for saying that word.
“What about the year 2019? Or 2018?” I asked. And I went back even a few more years. My little focus group, which consists of my kids, offered quite a few words, all of which were a lot better than ugh, sucked, and %@$#*.
All the words they shared for earlier years consisted of other people’s names, or words associated with family trips that they remember fondly. It was astonishing. Nothing but pleasant thoughts for all the other years. Now, I’m not saying that every year prior to 2020 was wonderful for all of us. But I am saying that, by comparison, 2020 was horrible for many of us. Maybe most of us. And to be honest, I don’t think it was the pandemic that left the most lasting marks on each person. I think our deeply inhuman response to everything that happened in 2020 left the deepest mark and, for some, the deepest wounds. The year 2020 jacked up humanity. It threw many of us off course, and the problem is that we can’t seem to rebound. I mean, I’m writing this book more than two years after the start of the pandemic, and it still feels like most of us got knocked off course and can’t find our way back. I’m still processing. Still working to understand. Maybe you are too? Why? Because 2020 was about so much more than 2020.
My dad used to tell me an analogy about a ship. If you draw a straight line from the tip of a ship and it continues—going straight—for one thousand miles, it will end up in the place to which it is pointing. But if that boat moves by only one tiny degree, for a few days of travel it may seem like that the ship is still heading to the original target. However, that one degree of change will eventually mean that the ship misses the original destination by more than sixteen miles on a 960-mile journey. That simple one-degree adjustment doesn’t seem like a big deal, day after day, but as those days slowly add up over weeks, you will arrive at a completely different destination than you originally planned.
So, my question is a simple one: How does humanity get back on course to being the kind of people who run together to help a stranger in need? How do we reset our paths and find our way again after getting knocked from our original course?
It starts with us. We each need to get back—individually—to who we were created to be. We need to return to the original design for who God made us to become. When that happens, something comes alive in each of us. Something wakes up. Something that can join with the people around us to do incredible, brave, exciting, kind, and generous things. The kind of things that a world in pain and uncertainty needs.
God created us to come alive in our original plan and design. The spice of the Italian auntie. The peace of the Kenyan hunter. The sweetness of the southern grandma. We all have God’s creativity deep inside us, and I believe that the first step in learning how to human is to simply . . .
Become who you were created to be. And who were you created to be? The answer, my friend, is, unfortunately, often buried deep within. Buried beneath years and years of trauma, trials, and triggers. Buried somewhere beneath years of slowly growing opinions on issues that may or may not affect you. Buried underneath years of being surrounded by people who look like you, think like you, talk like you, and vote like you. Buried underneath years of watching your favorite television news anchor. Buried underneath years of trying your very best to be human.
Now, I’m not saying anything about whether your years of being buried were good or bad. They could very well have been some of the best years of your life. But the true you—the one I want us to get to and unlock—was around long before the world around you had any influence over your opinion of policies, people, and politics. That version of you existed long before that scary or traumatic thing that happened to you happened. That original version of you is what we are trying to recover and bring back to the surface. And that version of you is the first step in remembering how to human.
Maybe you’re asking yourself, Why is this so important? Well, it’s important because I think that the world has a way of knocking us off course. Somehow we get convinced that we need to change, pretend, or become somebody other than our original selves, even if the alteration is subtle and small and changes us by only one degree. I’ve seen it firsthand, as I personally watched 2020 do this to so many people. I saw it happen to me in 2020 too!
You see, at the core of each one of us, compassion can outweigh personal opinion. It’s an internal, innate piece of who we are as humans. It’s just like the reflex we saw in all those men chasing down the kidnapper in the mall in the introduction of this book. Their compassion outweighed their opinions.
Let me offer you another good example of this in practice. In late 2019, my oldest daughter, Sohaila, became ill. Her illness progressed and got worse over the course of a few days, so much so that we ended up rushing her to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, where they found a mass in her chest and diagnosed her with lymphoma.
I could spend an entire book writing about those twenty-one days. They were filled with miracle after miracle. But what I remember most about those days is the army of people who showed up for us—not just in person but online (especially on Instagram)—to pray. To lift our family in prayer. To intercede on behalf of my precious daughter.
Prayers were sent up, and I can tell you that healing and miracles were received. When I let everyone on Instagram know that the doctors saw a mass in her chest and were checking us into the oncology floor to begin treatment the next day for lymphoma, I saw thousands of new people show up on my Instagram account to begin to pray. I saw thousands of strangers become family. I saw them storm the gates of heaven on behalf of my baby girl. I saw people I didn’t even know pray for miracles for our family. And miracles happened. After a day of so many people praying, doctors discovered that the mass had air inside it. A team of doctors came in to tell us that they had never seen a cancerous mass with air in it. So right then and there, they changed the diagnosis to an infection. Miracle.
On the flip side, I saw people pray for other miracles that did not occur. Like when everyone prayed for her pain to dissipate. Instead, her pain increased. I don’t know how to make sense of all that. But I do know that people still showed up every day to keep on praying. And isn’t that a kind of miracle? To be so kind and caring to a total stranger? They fell in love with my family, and we fell in love with them. They went to battle alongside us, and I’m forever grateful. You know those friendships that are forged in a fire? This was one of those moments.
Now, imagine with me for a second when in March 2020, just a few short months later, I shared my heart on Instagram relating to the racial injustices happening in America. And imagine my surprise when many of those same people who had gone into battle with me on behalf of my daughter Sohaila suddenly sent me messages telling me how horrible I was and how they wished they had never prayed for us. All because I had shared my perspective on an issue that was incredibly close to me. Imagine my heartache when I got messages from people telling me that they felt they had wasted their prayers.
My heart was crushed. How in the world could so many of these precious people suddenly forget? Forget how to be truly human in the way they were created to be human? How could they show such kindness, generosity, and compassion and then turn around and undo all of it with words of incredible smallness and spite? Even if we disagreed and had differing opinions on matters important to us, did it have to be like this? How could they forget so easily?