Image by Jill Wellington
Isn’t reading wondrous? Words appear before us and, like the faces of dear old friends, we can’t help recognizing them. So it is with feeling glad to be human. We all recognize that wordless, joyous whoosh.
I wrote this book to remind myself—and you—how often that shapeshifting grace arises. It spirals in simple moments as we repot our plants, tackle creative projects, or tenderly hang an heirloom ornament. It spreads as we explore other cultures down the street or over the sea. It suffuses us when we witness or perform acts of beauty in the face of our common sorrows.
Our five senses, our fantastic curiosity, our exhilarating emotional capacity are just a few of our avenues to gladness. Even when headlines clamor, or life deals tough challenges, we can find numberless reasons to feel grateful and hopeful.
Glad To Be Human
Glad to be human in the twentieth-first century, survival licked, glad not to be selling my blood anymore or using rolled-up toilet paper for sanitary napkins. But even in those dollar-few days, I’d find a bunch of roses abandoned on the street, or once, walking up Eighth Avenue to meet my date, the strap to my only pair of shoes disintegrated and I went into a hotel after three barefoot blocks and said, “Do you have any shoes?” and they did, a pair of Dr. Scholl’s that someone left that fit just right. Glad to be human, glad to be provided for, glad to provide for myself in faith and effort. Fun to find shoes, fun to buy them, too.
Glad to be human—for solitude and to be able to be a stranger—a gift of the twenty-first century, like speed and music anytime and feast upon feast of stories anytime. Glad to be human for late nights, talk and art and sex and loving and all different languages, glad to be human for words themselves, peculiar to us as paper to the wasp, as leaf to tree or song to bird; words, as human as a measured square.
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Glad to be human in the twenty-first century, where people spend lives designing, dancing, building, writing, studying their minutest fascinations, people dedicating lives to food or fashion or philosophy, creating and creating, absorbed in their work for love of it, as now they marry for love. People hungering to understand each other and their families, reading, talking, tending the earth and their dreams, and the playing of games and of sport.
Glad in the twenty-first century of all the mighty banquets laid: images of art of all our centuries reproduced and held in hand, writings of the writing cultures held in heart, spiritual traditions of the ages spread before us: choose, sample, compare, enjoy, discard, invent from the immense library of remembered human life! Deep feeding of consciousness. History lies on the bed, saying take me, take all you wish of me, and then leave me behind, I don’t mind.
Glad to be human for the feasts of all cuisines, any day any taste in the world and invented combinations, like discovered common tastes in conversations between strangers, the mixing of cultures complementing the glorious rush of fruit and vegetable and grain, fresh and fresh, glad.
Glad to be human for the knowledge of animals and nature and material and metal and chemistry and theory, living in a living dictionary of experience and interest and curiosity, glad to know some things about my human body, of her cells and structures, glad to know about some stars, glad the mystery is infinite, glad for the burst and silence.
Glad to be living in the heart, the human heart, time for whole days spent on relationships, for soothing, for expressing pain, for pleasure, contemplation. And time and ways and means for distant friends, living in differing places, to visit, to speak and the beauty of a letter sent received.
Glad for interiors and colors and pattern and balance and shape and movement and adornment and the way the future vapors on a loom. Glad of myriads of little helps, of zippers, paperclips, and cleverness. And of the explicit agreement in ongoing ordinary existence of plate glass.
Glad of the beauty of stones and their wisdoms, grandmothers of matter; glad of all the world, how much wider, fuller, more colorful can it be? The wild harmonic variation, rushes of beauty from all cultures differing, flood of beauty, glad to be here for this!
Glad to be safe and dry and educated and supplied and empowered and free of children, glad there are people glad to have children. Glad to choose, to help to nourish, to bless.
Glad to have coached a baby into this world, excruciating and exquisite. No sleep for twenty-four hours, my sister twisting in the birthing bed, her husband and me squeezing her hand, feeding her ice, our very breaths as one till salty weepy laughter chokes out of us as the red hairy head appears.
Glad to be human for all the ages that surround me always, for the precious ability always to catch sight of a baby somewhere, a toddler and children, and the sweet pure unconsciousness of, even in anger, youth, staggering in its unknowing beauty. And the reposed beauty of lined faces, relaxing into life, tendered by experience, the comfort of the presence of wisdom, with vigor yet, a beauty like a leatherbound book. And the grace of elders realized in full capacity, inspiring as centuries-old trees, the crowning loveliness of natures fulfilled, experience like rings around them of their growth, not separate into years, these feelings, but sensed around them as a life, a single mighty sheath of living over their ordinary comings and goings, sap rising and falling in them in thin streams, surrounded by the immensity of their truth.
Glad to have helped at death as well, not only the slow dangle from the hospital tubes for those I knew, but for the stranger, the old man dying alone on the southeast corner of 42nd Street and Ninth Avenue in NYC, to crouch at his crumpled barely moving body, hold his colding hand, tell him he did a good job with life, to feel his spirit lighten and leave, like a bird.
Glad to see the old ones with the young ones, and the middles with them both, embracing the holy hidden web, the knowledge at once forward and backward, the intentions of youth, the obligations of middleage, the liberations of age. Joys at every stage and moment, at no time without memory, at no time without expectation, life at once like a film in a can. Much gladness that we share this, reminding each other over and over with alphabets of behavior and emotion, familiar and combined to sentences newly every day.
And glad to be human for the sake of days, that all of human history has taken place in days. The Battle of Hastings happened on a day, and so did the dancing of Fred Astaire, and all of us have days for all emotion, exploration, for being sick, recovering from travel, gathering with friends, holidays, and days for being bored, for recreation and creation, days and days and infinite days.
Glad to be human for cooking and slicing life, looking for meaning and searching and finding the missing word, the lost sock, the thrilly scary moment reaching around in your purse and not finding your wallet, rummaging, rummaging, knowing it’s there, finding it under your fingers with pleasure, and finding with pleasure at last that the meaning of life’s like a cell on the field of your vision, you know it is there, but each time you look it springs out of your sight, but looking at anything else, it springs back into place and you’re looking right through it. Glad to be human, abundantly answered.
Hard to see the effort behind abundance, here in the early twenty-first century: the spent backs picking berries, raw red nursing hands, the sweat of science, years of boredom for a single thought; hard to see the editor tossing in her sleep, the relentless raising of children, the grinding of wheat, the servicing of machinery, but when I am spent and raw with sweat and sleeplessness working my work asking how can it be so hard, I remember what work it takes to bring me any single thing. My gladness of all I am brought begets gratitude, and gratitude lightens my service. And all becomes service and gladness and gratitude.
Glad for the transformations now and coming, glad for love and work and play, glad for letting go my fear to sound my song of gladness, going as it does against prevailing currents in the thinkers of my day. Glad I learned the joy of swimming against the current in a Catskill cataract. Full strength deliberate infinity swimming, whole self pleasure challenge, young lad paddles over asking, “Do you know you’re not going anywhere?” and me yessing and loving the power of current, power of body, free from having to watch where I’m going, free from having to turn around or curb my body from a pool wall, a pond curve, free from “Am I going out too far?” in salt and bobbing water, free to swim and nothing else with all myself and a man swims over, says, “You’re fighting the current,” and “No,” I say, “I’m enjoying it!” Whole self, full power, glad to be human.
©2020 by Irene O'GArden.
All Rights Reserved. Excerpted with permission..
Publisher: Mango Publishing Group, a divn. of Mango Media Inc..
Glad to Be Human: Adventures in Optimism
by Irene O’Garden
Celebrate life just because. In a world so often filled with distressing news and bewildering violence, being “human” often gets a bad rap. Rejoice in everyday reasons to smile, think positively, and enjoy the gift of life.
For more info, or to order this book, click here. (Also available as a Kindle edition.)
About the Author
Irene O’Garden has won―or been nominated for―prizes in nearly every writing category from stage to e-screen, hardcovers, children’s books, as well as literary magazines and anthologies. Her critically acclaimed play Women on Fire (Samuel French), starring Judith Ivey, played to sold-out houses at Off-Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre, and was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award. O’Garden’s new memoir, Risking the Rapids: How My Wilderness Adventure Healed My Childhood was published by Mango Press in January 2019.