I just finished a work of fiction (The Book Theif by Markus Zusak ISBN-13: 978-0375842207 ) set in Germany during WWII, who's narrator was death himself. It was, in a very crude and simplistic version of the truth, amazing. Death is not who you would expect. He strikes me, in this version of himself, as a kind of anthropologist who strives to understand this group of creatures he works so intimately with but is not part of.
A great deal of the story is about other memorable, endearing, characters. Death is the arc. But it's him I keep thinking about. I often feel that I'm a rouge anthropologist, trying to understand a world that I'm part of but never quite feel seated in. I often find myself in the thick of things and still feel I'm on the outside looking in. I relate to Death.
The last line of the book (and I'm not giving anything away at all by saying this) is Death's thought, "I am haunted by humans."
The bond between that character and myself was cemented right then. Days before, I'd added a section on this blog entitled "Haunted by" which lists books I've read that I still think a lot about.
I am haunted by humanity too.
Longingly I look upon love between friends, between human beings who share a moment of mutual care, and I marvel at the capacity of all of us to be good and kind. Often we lament the choices made by those "in charge" as being motivated and supported by self interest. We can find deceit and cunning around every corner, when we look. And, really, it's not all that surprising. We, like most others, are creatures who have evolved and survived almost entirely because of our awareness of self interest.
Given that long rich history, it's really quite a marvel that any of us can feel compelled to, well, love, and act lovingly toward others. Of course we have found it to be advantageous to share resources and goals in the framework of society. And we have found that social norms regarding polite behavior are often the best means to reinforcing that cohesiveness called society. But, I find that it's hard to explain away strangers who pick up your dropped coins in this way. I find it hard to explain Birthday cards, and sent flowers, standing ovations, a hand held or an arm around the shoulder of someone grieving.
I am haunted by humans. I'm haunted by the terrible things we do.... but much more, I'm haunted by kindness. Kindness is not easy and we do it anyway.