A few weeks ago, my youngest son Ali started asking me to find a computer game for him. "Illuminate the Human," he called it. I couldn't find a game that goes by that name. But if you Google the term you will find that the first hit is the Wikipedia entry on the human condition. I didn't read the entry. But I tried to imagine what a game called "Illuminate the Human" might be like. Comically, the image that comes to my mind is like some kind of PBSkids game, with a flashlight that dances around a dark screen and you have to find the cartoon person in the shadows. Games have become a big part of our lives around here. There are good points to that and bad points, but I am not going to analyze it now.
About a week ago, I discovered the game Ali was looking for on Facebook. It is not "Illuminate the Human," but actually "Mutilate a Doll." It's a bizarre physics game where you drop a ragdoll repeatedly to see how much damage you can inflict. It troubles me a bit, but I can see the humor in it. It makes my sons laugh and laugh. I suppose for the same reason that the Three Stooges is appealing, or Funniest Home Videos of people accidentally hurting themselves. It is easier to process the idea of personal injury, of death, if we are able to laugh at it. Laughter softens the quite visceral blow of how fragile we humans really are.
Death dealt my family a blow this year with the death of my Gramma Kathy. As I think about sitting at her bedside in her last days, I think I know what it means to illuminate the human. Not in a game, but in real life, where death is real and the pain of it lasts and lasts for those that are living. Gramma slept a lot at the end, after her stroke. She awoke sometimes, and while I was there only intermittently I was blessed to see her eyes open and have her smile at me twice. What a remarkable thing to have a person you love, who is transitioning into death, light up into consciousness. The last time I was with her, she held out her hand to me in a request to have me help her get out of bed. She couldn't speak, but she asked me repeatedly. "Help me up, help me up." I am so sorry that I could not help her up, that she was not ever getting up again. But I am grateful to her for asking, for illuminating what it means to be human as death approached. For wanting to keep getting up and for loving each of the people in her life with gloriously happy smiles at the end. I wish I could have kept holding the hand she offered to me that day, but instead it is memories that I cling to.
It saddens to me have recently needed to learn a new phone number for my grandfather. He is in his new house now, and it has made, for him, a lifelong dream come true. He is on his favorite spot on his farm, and, at age 89, hopes to live out his days there. I know he must be devastatingly lonely sometimes, but being in a new place makes it easier to be without my gramma. Still, I can tell you the exact moment I memorized my grandfather's old phone number. I was fourteen, and the friend who had come by to get my grampa's number said to me, "You mean you don't know your own grandfather's phone number?" Not too many years later, I often called that number before I would call my parents. My grandparents were always there if I needed them. The fact that I cling to a mere memory of their number illuminates a very human need within me. Now when I call the number that I took to heart over 20 years ago, no one will answer.
I have taken my grandfather's new number to heart, along with the need to forge a relationship with him anew as he walks into a different phase of life. But I must thank him also. His determination to see his dream of a new house come true illuminates another deeply human need, to see our hopes become reality.
I see that human need in action every day, whether I am helping a patron find a piece of transformative information at the library or watching my sons build insane worlds in Minecraft. I am satisfying that need as I type this, another blog post that I will send out into world, illuminating the human in me.