Being human is exquisite, although I sometimes think a little less exquisite might be a little more comfortable.
There are moments – my infant daughter laying her hand lovingly along my cheek as she nurses; my mother, her eyes intent on mine as she spouts poetic nonsense in her hallucinatory last days – that seem as yesterday. There are others, really important events like my wedding, or my college graduation, that I remember only through re-telling, but not through actual memory. And there are still other things, like my marriage, that seem simultaneously much more ancient than our married years, and much shorter.
It is this elasticity of time that makes us truly human.
More specifically, it is apparently the ability to remember the past like watching a movie, along with the ability to envision the future the same way that psychologists and cognitive scientists label “mental time travel” that makes us human. Apparently this is a gift of evolution; it enables us to learn from mistakes and never do THAT again.
It is a fascinating concept. I’m not sure I buy that it is a uniquely human skill. My dogs watch me pack a suitcase and grieve, even though I haven’t left yet. They certainly can envision the future. But maybe if there were no suitcase, my dogs would be undividedly happy.
Because, I am often divided.
The dark side of this evolutionary gift is the preoccupation with the imminence of the future. I think this happens with women more than men. It is the dark gift that makes me simultaneously glory in a visit from my daughter while mourning the brevity of the visit, envisioning the day she leaves. It paints each day, each joy, with a shadowy cloud.
Perhaps a little less humanity would mean a little more happiness.