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A muddle and mixture of family and friends surrounded the dying elderly woman like she was a campfire. They came to honor and pay their respects; many generations, from all over the country. This group seemed well educated, well-read, and the intellectual discussions were tossed around in that room like a basketball. She had said, to all, that it was time. “Please stop the dialysis,” she insisted, and, it was stopped. At first, she was almost holding court, but over the days, as she was slipping across to the other side, the hymns started filling the room, spilling out into the hospital halls, helping to carry her home. Tears of sadness, appreciation, joy and family love flowed freely the night she died.

Hers was a story about language, literature, ethics, music and spirit. Take away language and literature, and the appreciation she deserved for years of pushing for education and learning for her family and friends would have passed without notice. Take away ethics, and the patient wouldn’t have known she could stop dialysis. Take away music and spiritual energy, and the family wouldn’t have grasped the true depth and value of the woman or the connection and love they shared with her and each other. The humanities give us meaning, but, from where and why did they begin?

There is no record or hard evidence as to how or when Homo sapiens began speaking, but there are plenty of theories. The one I like the most asserts that, at first, we sang and drummed descriptive sounds while pantomiming hunting stories around the campfire until, over hundreds and thousands of years, words and lyrics evolved. Much later, words became literature when written down in a retrievable way, first on clay tablets, then, on papyrus, parchment, paper and, now, computers.

More than one linguistic expert has theorized that it was language which facilitated the Homo sapiens species to grow and dominate. When ethical words about a common virtue, or rule, convinced, inspired and unified large collections of tribes, these ancient groups became empowered. Words from The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or the Code of Hammurabi, “A bag of barley is worth two shekels of silver,” and even song lyrics like, “Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy),” have pushed civilization forward.

The history of humanity has been made bright by language, literature, ethics, music and spirit. Also bright was that room with the elderly dying patient and her loving and singing family and friends.

Richard P. Holm, MD is founder of The Prairie Doc® and author of “Life’s Final Season, A Guide for Aging and Dying with Grace” available on Amazon. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPB most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.

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