“Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”
Like it or not, we are family. We are all Homo Sapiens, and our species originated in one place: Africa. In fact, compared to every other species, our genetic makeup is remarkably homogenous. That can be hard for people to swallow, because on the surface, humans appear diverse.
But variation in human skin color is simply a product of geography and climate. Humans have evolved to have different degrees of melatonin in their skin based on what was most adaptive to the temperature and ultraviolet rays in the region they descended from. So yes, humans are diverse in color, but these variations only run skin deep.
We form groups because we have evolved to be tribal, but these divisions can breed discrimination based on illusions of our separateness. We may be separate in body, but we are bound by our universal experience of life. Our humanity unites us like raindrops falling into the ocean.
In just the past two years, I had several life-altering episodes. My best friend from high school suddenly died, my Aunt died, and I was involved in a serious car accident. Also, an illness I’ve had for years became progressively severe, leading me to feel hopeless and at times suicidal.
Each of these events caused me to suffer. In those moments, I felt an overwhelming sense of grief, frailty, vulnerability, and mortality. These losses stripped me down to a raw emotional state that I could not think my way out of. I was forced to surrender to an emotional experience that felt devastating and isolating. But my trials also turned out to be revelatory.
To heal, I had to open myself to the lessons within the hardship. I learned that feeling alone, hopeless, and victimized by the painful consequences of my life only made things worse. And when I thought about it more deeply, I realized that these perspectives were irrational. There was nothing unique about my suffering. It is a fact of life for all of us and an opportunity to remember the universality in being human. When I saw it from that perspective, my heart filled with compassion, empathy, and gratitude, and I felt transformed.
Empathy is a tool that can open our minds. It gives us the ability to look past our differences and share in our likeness. Gratitude allows us to let go of what we can’t have and open our hearts to what we do have. Compassion allows us to refocus our attention on something greater than ourselves.
Empathy, gratitude, and compassion give us the insight to open to the truth that we are many individuals within one group. We all experience suffering. We all cry, we all bleed, we all die. We are more the same than we are different, and that is a comforting realization. Because in our humanity, we are never alone.