04/07/2014 08:01 pm ET Updated Jun 07, 2014

On Being Human

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players". With those words, Shakespeare pinned the lightness of the human condition into our modern consciousness. We, mere mortals of the 21st Century, and every mortal since men walked erect and our brain grew to sustain our intellect, have lived the moment when life levels everything we know, regardless of gender, status or background. The moment that stops time. The moment that equalizes our emotions, perceptions and resolve. It is the moment when life stares at us, piercing straight into our soul, and we stand naked, unable to hide or run. It is our moment of truth. It is the end of life. It is the beginning of life.

Sometime, those moments come to us in a sudden, crushing way. Sometime, they are the culmination of subtle currents and undercurrents, often not acknowledged, until they burst into our consciousness, unannounced and uninvited. It's the moment when we abandon the baggage we carried for so long, and we embrace acceptance and forgiveness. We discover the universal, silent language that the entire world hears and understands: the language we use when our emotions speak before the brain does.

Death will be that moment for some. The death of someone you have loved and shared life with. You are struck so deeply that your grief turns into physical pain, and separating makes you remove layer after layer, one painful rip at the time, with the ripping sound filling your brain. Perhaps it was a prolonged illness, which you lived as your own, day by day until the inevitable occurs. Perhaps, with a cruel twist of fate, you were not there, or you had just left, hopeful that things were getting better. Perhaps it happened suddenly and you never saw it coming. Perhaps it happened long ago, and you just found out. Regardless, you now must let go and fight your selfishness, because you wanted him longer, or forever, but he wasn't yours to keep, and you must let go.

Love will be that moment for others, love lost. The love that filled your existence at first, when the days apart were eternity, and the days together fulfilled all of your senses. The days when the intensity of the moment stopped the ticking of the clock. And now that he has rejected you, seemingly taking with him all that you have given, you are sinking into the momentary oblivion of what you have lost, not what you have received.

Grief does not unfold with a script, or according to a plan. You are swept away by indomitable forces that you cannot see, control, or even understand; you wonder what pieces of you will be left once you are returned to the rest of your life. You are Dorothy, instantly plucked from an unremarkable mid-western life, or Ulysses, facing the Circe's temptations while on an epic journey. Or perhaps Dante, who lost his way on an ordinary walk through a familiar forest. Your mind and your heart flood with thoughts, memories and emotions that you struggle to organize. The direction of your path fades in the distance and your step falters. You need time and space to regroup.

Once, traditional life permitted both space and time to mourn and grieve. Look back three generations, and you will find images of bereaved adults, invariably mourning in black clothing, insulated in a bubble of customs and behavior. They took time to face their sorrow and mend their fibers through a natural healing process. It is, after all, the evolutionary way of dealing with loss.

Today, sadly, time is a luxury no one can afford. Our lives are ruled by schedules and deadlines, commitments that we make or are made for us, or are imposed onto us by law. We are, after all, the productive society, nobled by work and loyal to the cause. Unproductivity is a sin, a character flaw which will not only burden our lives, but taint our progeny as well. As no other civilization before us, we have mastered time; we manage it to expand our actions, to get more out of it. Remarkably, we have created a fourth dimension, for which the user manual is missing a chapter.

And my thoughts wander to words that reverberated in my head a thousand times, so familiar and so contemporary after seven centuries: "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai in una selva oscura/In the midst of the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark ....". So Dante begins his imaginary journey through life, death and purification, and as I read his immortal pages I remind myself that grief, peril and pain are the motors that shift us into the next gear, a sort of Darwinian drive which detaches us from the ephemeral and attaches us to the substantial, a surge to look for what fulfills and renews. It's human to avoid suffering but it's also our nature to evolve and to confront the challenges we are facing.
Being human is no small feat.