I hope you will indulge me in this foray into a very different look at the many worlds in which we live.
My father is being buried today. It is no tragedy; he lived to almost 97 and had a full life. But still…
As all of you have no doubt experienced in one way or another, there is a huge disconnect between the emotions we feel individually about a newcomer to our world or a departing elder and the arrival and departure of those we don’t know at all.
The birth of a loved child is as glorious as most anything can be. And yet it is, in the larger picture, totally banal. I found this figure: By 2011, an estimated 107,602,707,800 humans had been born since the emergence of the species.
Same with death. The death of a loved elder is a profound event. And yet it, too, is banal. One hundred billion of those born have also died.
There are a handful of exceptions to this dual reality. These births and deaths (and lives) are not viewed as banal but as historically important. You can pick your own people for that list, but I bet they will be a group of people both very good and very bad, many of them talented and all of them charismatic.
But for the rest of us, a particular birth and death are of enormous importance to very few. It’s a kind of background noise.
Why am I writing about this now?
Clearly because I’m grieving and trying to make sense of the suffering and passing of my father.
But also because that grief — and the absence of grief all around me in New York City where he lived — speaks to that weird relativity in the emotional universe. When you look closely at what reality is, the picture is very different from how things may feel inside.
This is a dichotomy I’ve had to embrace as I learn and write about the cosmos. Our human view of the world is, well, often quite lacking in perspective.… Read more