The Human Experience: Beating Back Adversity... Brenda's Story
What are we humans? Speaking in purely clinical terms we consist of a little over 200 bones and we have approximately 10 pints of blood. About 99% of our body mass is made up of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus. There are muscles and nerves and all are protected by a thin layer of skin.
In most cases we are finely-tuned machines, powered by heart and lungs and other internal organs, all working in unison and capable of functioning quite nicely for eight, nine or ten decades.
Our brains are enlarged in comparison to most species on the planet and capable of complex thought. Our senses, although not as keen as those of some organisms, work splendidly and rarely fail us. We walk, we communicate and we problem-solve, all while breathing in and out 14,000 per day.
Really, though, that is all just data and scientific categorizing. The question asked at the beginning of this article begs…no…demands a better answer for we are each, as humans, unique. So I ask again: what are we humans? What is the human experience?
FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS
Oh my, those feelings and emotions! We humans are a glum lot! We humans are a happy lot! We humans are angry and confused, dazed and befuddled. Some of us wear our emotions on our sleeves for all to see while others hide them away, saving them for special moments.
We all cry; we all laugh. We feel emotional pain and we can be angered. Toss in loneliness and depression and giddiness and despair. A parent’s love for their child, a child’s love and caring for their aging parents, all make up that which is human. It is a complicated mess and it is a beautiful celebration of compassion, empathy and, oh yes, love.
Possibly….no, probably, our finest defining quality is our ability to love. Stories abound of acts of love despite dangers and sacrifice being the cost….and yet, we humans are capable of such rage, such inhumanity towards our fellow man, that it makes one wonder if we are in fact all of the same species.
SENSE OF PURPOSE
Philosophers and sociologists have written volumes on this aspect of the human experience. What is our purpose? To some it may be the fostering and support of family. Some may feel that their purpose is their career while there are those who seek to serve others.
We have all known or heard of people who go about life with a single-minded purpose. What is your purpose? To accumulate possessions? To move up the ladder at work? To become the best at something? To simply love others?
Do we define our purpose by our careers, our hobbies, our loved ones or some other way? What is it that drives us forward, at times against seemingly insurmountable odds? Why are some not driven at all? Why are some able to rise above crippling obstacles while others are hindered or completely incapacitated by the simplest of deterrents?
NEED FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION
Thirty years ago I would have said I need no other human in my life but that would have been random words from a bitter and lost person. Indeed, no man is an island and to attempt to be isolated is to go against our very nature. We are social animals. We may try at times to go against this truth but the inner voice keeps pushing us towards others.
Watch children on a playground. Their natural instinct is to socialize with others their age; as we grow older we become more skeptical, more jaded, more guarded and yet we all have our trusted circle of friends to whom we give our trust. We are herding mammals seeking the comfort and protection that the herd provides and to deny that is to deny our very nature as humans.
SEARCH FOR GRATIFICATION
A pat on the head as a child, a job-well done remark from our superiors, a token of love from our loved ones, all signs of support that bring us gratification. What else brings that elusive prize? Reaching a goal perhaps or overcoming adversity? Perhaps it is seeing the look of happiness on our child’s face or knowing that we have done a good thing during the day, a thing that brought relief or comfort to someone.
We all need a sense of gratification and all, in our own way, seek it, whether it be self-produced gratification or the result of interaction with others. At times it is our guiding light, this search for gratification. At times it can be obsessive by its nature and cause more harm than good.
How much is too much? How little is too little? Do we self-regulate our need for gratification or does society step in to regulate it for us? All of this and more is a part of the human experience that is so fascinating.
AN EXAMPLE FROM REAL LIFE
In the months to come I am going to explore the Human Experience as I write articles about real people in my life; through their experiences hopefully we can gain a better understanding of what it is to be human. The names will be changed of course but they are real people who I know or have known and I hope you find them as inspiring as I have.
Today we will get to know Brenda, a woman I have known for twenty years. Brenda came from an abusive childhood; her mother was a drug addict, her father rarely home as he went off in search of who knows what. She suffered physical and emotional abuse from her mother for seventeen years at which time she married her first boyfriend and began what she hoped would be a happy life
Unfortunately her husband was an alcoholic and as his life spiraled into decay Brenda was caught in the whirlpool and entered her own dark days of addiction. This seemingly endless cycle of abuse and addiction ended one day when Brenda begged a distant relative for help and happily received the help she so desperately needed.
A treatment center followed and then hard work with an AA sponsor and a supportive group of like-minded friends. She then entered college at the age of thirty-five and graduated with honors. Today Brenda works as a counselor for women at a battered-woman’s shelter and has married a fine man who so obviously loves her spirit and her infectious attitude about life.
I met Brenda a long time ago in my classroom; she was a painfully shy girl who quite obviously had trust issues. If you were to spend any time with her you might see a tiny spark inside of her, a spark I saw and tried to cultivate through positive reinforcement. It was not meant to be at that time but that inner spark eventually burned through the years of darkness and today I am thrilled to announce that Brenda is a shining example of the resiliency and good that is inherent in the Human Experience.
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
My story is well-documented so there is no reason to relate it at this point. You are all welcome to check out my other articles if you should care to do so. This series on the Human Experience is designed to highlight some very special people in my life who beautifully characterize all that is good in life and in being human.
I have lived a long life and at one time I embraced the darkness and had no hope. Today I see the beauty in all things and want to shout from the rooftops how wonderful life is for this once wayward wanderer. I hope that through stories about Brenda and others that those out there who see no shining light might come to realize that all is not hopeless, that there is hope, that we as humans have within us whatever it takes to find happiness.
May you all find your own shining light and may the rest of your days be filled with wonder and love.
2012 Bill Holland (aka billybuc)
- Women Helping Battered Women – Working to end domestic violence against women and children
WHBW believes that all women and children have the right to live without fear of battering – sexual, physical, emotional, or financial. Our vision is an end of physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse.