here’s a beetle climbing on the screen of my window. On the outside, I make sure.
I turn back to my computer and stare at the glowing empty document in front of me. But before I can return to concentrating on filling the blankness, I find myself again peering at the beetle as it slowly creeps across the window’s upper frame. This beetle is very slow. Harsh, I know, but I’m positive I’ve seen beetles scurry at rates that put this particular beetle’s pace to shame. I wonder if it knows how slowly it’s moving and whether it feels any doubt or even self-loathing as a result. Maybe it has a therapist. “Trust me, Doc, I’ve heard my mother ask God why I couldn’t be more like my brother hundreds of times…”
It’s possible the beetle is especially lethargic because in the tree right outside my window, there’s a sparrow (I don’t know if it’s a sparrow, but I’ll pretend it is to shield my ignorance) flitting about from branch to branch. Now there’s a creature that knows how to behave on a morning. I don’t want to play God, but it is judgment day. Sunday, and the snappy bird is obviously far more accomplished than that slothful beetle. Stupid beetle.
I turn back to my computer, somehow humbled, and I know why. I am the beetle. The page is still blank. I’ve not gotten any closer to writing a thing, which is very frustrating because I know how much better I’d feel about myself if I could just produce something. I so much want to be the sparrow, but today, I can’t get around it: I’m the beetle.
Is being a beetle that bad, though? And I ask this not just to feel better about myself. The idea that I’m disappointed in myself for being the slower and less productive creature is revealing. I know I’d feel better about myself if I could just accomplish something at this moment, when I want to. I care less about quality. What I want is industry, because that industry by itself would make me feel better. Following through with a task allows you to put it in your past (“It’s done!”), satisfied you were able to advance your life an inch.
As a race, we like putting things behind us. It’s a significant urge we all share, elevating it to the status of a goal. We’ve decided that a really top-drawer way of assessing each other is to examine what we’ve already done, and then, if we choose to be critical, pairing it with the number of times we’ve journeyed around the sun. We then weigh these accomplishments against yearly solar circles and decide if the human before us is sparrow or beetle.
If you’re a truly outstanding person, your accomplishments will far outweigh your solar travels. Ah, humanity. We’re a delightful species, aren’t we?
Some of the finest minds have pondered what it means to be human, what defines us. I suspect that the great thinkers who have pondered the question have done so less expecting to find an answering than to add their interest in the question to their résumés.
What, really, is the point of figuring out what it means to be human? Aside from the fact that solving the riddle would be a great thing to put behind you, accomplishment-wise. Yet actually figuring it out, or de-obfuscating it, would make human life a lot clearer. All of us would finally know what we need to do to do to be considered accomplished humans. We’d grasp our purpose.
And we’d all be able to look behind us and say, “Ah, see how well I lived? Did you see how well I fulfilled my humanity?” We’d all be able to get on with things a little bit more efficiently.