It’s a Hard Time to Be Human

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 5:00 am

It’s a Hard Time to Be Human

When I ran across this Ellen Bass poem recently, I was immediately drawn to the line, “It’s a hard time to be human.”

I’m sure there’s never been a time when it wasn’t hard to be human. But this is our time, and our world seems to be spinning off course.

And yet, as the poem’s title says, “The World Has Need of You.” It’s hard to credit that our little lives, words, and actions can make a difference, but they do. The “proof” is in the last three lines of this poem, which I’ll let you read for yourself.

I’ll simply say, “Let’s get out there and drop lots of apples!” The world is full of people of good will — together we can help the good earth get back to spinning properly on its axis!

“The World Has Need Of You”
by Ellen Bass

everything here
seems to need us

—Rainer Maria Rilke

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.

Share Post


is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

Share Your Reflection


  • TheSuitIsNotBlackk

    Hard time to be human compared to what? A history of MUCH more violence and oppression?

  • Garry Coulter

    I love the line in the poem ‘ when Newtons apple……’ . It is all to easy to despair for the world and think that all is lost. When in London last month I was reminded again just how important the little things in life remain. A large crowded city with all that entails, but some of the inhabitants of this metropolis found the time to leave a coffee, perhaps a sandwich or other food for fellow citizens who have found themselves on the street. In the grand scheme of global politics did their altruism merit a mention? No. In the grand human parade did they have an impact? Yes. I have been on the other side and the small actions of strangers who take the time to care can and do alter another life.
    Change begins with all of us. Hope can’t be nourished without someone taking the time to care. We all need each other. How jaded these words can sound if we’re caught in the rip tide of cynicism that all too easily pulls us along its evil path.
    I prefer to think the worlds a place where good people, sometimes in seemingly hopeless circumstances, conduct themselves with faith. Faith that ONE PERSON can make a difference. And yes the earth can ever so slightly rise to meet the apple.

  • Anette Margaret Puskas

    This great little episodes talks about this very thing. Are the actors aware of…is anyone aware of how much we need each other no. The very last moment of the episode suggests because of our ignorance we could lose it all. On the other side, we can overcome. But, as history has shown – human nature doesn’t work for the optimal way…most of the time.

    • Garry Coulter

      Your play mentions the ‘butterfly effect ‘. I believe every action we take has a reaction, good, bad or otherwise that ripples through our lives. Like a high pressure system in Greenland can cause floods in Southern Europe. Does this planet seek equilibrium as weather and do we experience the so called karmic events in response to our actions?