Since you have nothing better to do at the moment (you’re on the internet, after all), consider three scenarios of people. If you will, truly consider them for a moment, project your mind into each and try to imagine being that person. If all you do is try, it will be good for your soul.
(1) A man is riding down the interstate at 6:30 in the morning. He’s not driving, so he dozes, but occasionally he lifts his eyelids and looks out, as the center of the city gets closer. He came to this city four years ago from Guatemala to look for a job, and now he works on a construction site. Back in Guatemala, while helping build houses, he worked in the evenings as a dance instructor, the thing he really loves. As he rides in to his construction job this morning, he remembers that feeling of standing in front of a class, showing them what to do, placing their hands differently, standing next to them to demonstrate how the feet should move. Then he thinks about last night, lying next to his girlfriend, making love with her, how sweet that was. He would never tell his fellow workers how soft and tender he felt with her, or feels now when he thinks about her. He opens his eyes again and sees a billboard for cellphones, and he recalls his grandmother, who never knew how to use a cellphone before she died.
(2) A young girl sits looking at a cookbook. She’s thinking vaguely of foods she really likes, such as the noodle dish her mother makes with the creamy sauce, or the fruit salad her grandmother makes for holidays with oranges and nuts, or the cookies with coconut and chocolate that her friend’s mother makes. The girl reads a recipe, wondering if she can do it, proud of herself that she knows something about cooking, and wondering if she could surprise her mother. It would be such a treat to see her mother surprised and suddenly happy, to have her mother praise her as a smart girl. While she is reading, the girl remembers an argument with a boy at school that day about his calling her best friend a hippo. She wanted to hit him, but she’s proud of herself that she didn’t. But she really wanted to.
(3) It has been a cold night, and a man has slept on cardboard near a building where a certain amount of heat radiates. He wakes up remembering his dream of being in an airport, coming through a gate to hug his wife as he came home from a business trip to Belgium. Lying on the sidewalk, homeless, he also thinks that even back on that trip to Belgium, he was already drinking too much. Now that he’s awake, he continues to lie there, hearing more cars go by, listening to the footsteps of people walking past. Finally he sits up, and what bothers him the most isn’t the degradation on sitting on the sidewalk, it’s the fact that he knows he is dirty and ragged with long hair. All his life he took so much care of his appearance. One time he and his brother appeared at a party wearing the same beautiful silk shirt, and they just started laughing about it. He looks around now wondering when he will get some food. Yesterday someone gave him a sandwich, and he begins to fantasize about it, feeling a clutching in his stomach from hunger.
What I’m trying to do with these scenarios is imagine what it is like to be another human being. Such imagining can be philosophical, or religious, or political (if you actually start to care about other people, that has HUGE political implications). Think of yourself in a car, driving down the interstate. All around you are other drivers, each of them merely a part of the other vehicle. They are stupid for cutting you off, or an idiot for going too slow, or too dull for you to even look at. You barely notice them as human beings.
But every one of them, however dull, stupid, or uninteresting, is feeling the desire to be somewhere. Every one of them has a favorite food that gives them great pleasure when they eat it. Every one has loved someone or loves someone now, thinks about that person with fondness, affection, longing. Every one of those drivers has anticipated a special day, waited impatiently for that day to come, knowing how good it would be.
Beyond the road you are driving on, the buildings are filled with people who have fears and dreams, who remember games they played as children. Through the country, across the earth, each person who seems so distant, meaningless, nonexistent, in fact, has at some point stood watching something happen and smiled to see it, feeling happy. What makes them human? Their language, their fairy tales, their recipes, their grandmothers?
If you can really understand this truth about the seven billion people on the earth, it can be a bit terrifying, as if for a split second we can see what God sees, the vast extent of humanity and the rich full personality of each person. Even a second of that knowledge can overwhelm the mind. Maybe that’s part of why we don’t do it. A child died of hunger in Niger? Where is that? So what? A man fell off a bridge in China and was killed? What do I care?
But I care. This enormous, overwhelming reality, our common humanness, is what I write about.