What am I doing here? Why am I here? That is a question. But why anything? Why me? Why am I, when only God is “I am who I am.” And why here, and where is here? Indiana, United States, North America, planet Earth, solar system, Milky Way galaxy, one among billions, here I am lost in space in a world that is nonetheless in God’s hands from “in the beginning” to “in the ending.” In the meantime, why am I here? Short answer: I am here to learn to be human. I am here to learn to be human fully, not like an Apollo but like Jesus who laid down his life for us all. And that is more than enough.
Long answer to why I am here: In the Garden of Eden story Satan’s pitch went like this: “Adam and Eve, listen up. You do not want to be human. Being human is a burden. You have to learn everything bit by bit; you have to tend the garden in the heat of the summer; you get bored, and you get sick; you will get nothing but troubles from others; and then you die. You do not want to be human. You want to be like gods, knowing good and evil, never dying and drinking ambrosia from gold cups on white clouds. Trust me. You do not want to be human.” Our ancestors should have said: “Get lost. We are here to learn how to be human."
I need to learn how to be my brother’s keeper and my sister’s too. I do not want to be Cain; I want to be Abel. I need to learn how to cultivate the garden, how to protect Mother Nature and build Mother Church. I need to learn how rare is planet Earth and how amazing the minuscule genes of my body and the immense stars in the trillions expanding at the speed of light, the fastest speed there is. I want to learn to be human. I am here to learn to walk, to talk, to think, to care about a rock, a plant, a dog or cat, and each unique human being, each a precious child of God. I am here to learn to care. I am here to be detached from this world, but only after I have learned well how to be attached.
I am here to learn to care and not to care. I am here to be human. I am here to learn that I must do everything I can and leave everything to God’s care. I am here to learn how to spend my life in the discovery that I want nothing so much as to give of myself for the benefit of others. I am here to learn how to be a displaced person, a nomad who has here no abiding city, a pilgrim who knows “this our exile” is a vale of tears. I am here to learn how to await what I know is coming. Come, Lord Jesus!
I am here to learn how to be human—how to trust, how to hope and how to love. I want to learn how to believe wholeheartedly and love passionately. Even God’s Son wanted to become human. Can you imagine? Think of it: A baby in a stable who made a woman cry, and a man nailed to a cross who thought to say to a stranger in agony, “This day you will be with me in paradise."
I want to learn how to be human. I want to learn how to die, how to go through death with the “bread of life” and not to expect to get a life only after death. I want to be born into eternal life when I die and leave the womb of this here life. I want to learn to sit at the table and wait until everyone else is seated at the banquet in heaven, for without everyone being happily there I cannot be happy here. I want to learn to count no lost sheep unworthy of my search and my care, however feeble. I want to learn to want it all and how to wait for God, not Godot, but God. I want to learn to let go, let God. I want to learn to be human. I want to learn to learn. I want to learn to dance in friendship with God the dance of love, so that when I die I will not be a wallflower who cannot dance, though oft invited, because, and only because, I have yet to learn the steps of love.
I want to learn how to be human, just that, only that, fully that, human as Jesus was human. That is why I am here.
Father Nicholas Ayo is a professor emeritus in Notre Dame’s Program of Liberal Studies.
Photo of Father Ayo by Matt Cashore.