The Great Extinction

Because tenderness can be misconstrued as weakness, because weakness means vulnerability, because vulnerability can lead to pain, and because pain reminds us of our mortality, we live in a world that favors pleasure, invulnerability, strength, and ruthlessness over those fragile fragments of the human experience that make this life worth considering in the first place. I have seen how a show of tenderness will make a man an object of scorn, and a woman, a victim of tragedy.

If only you knew how bad things really are. I know when I am in the presence of greatness, not because I have some special ability to discern the wheat from the chaff, but because greatness insists on making itself known. We each, after all, have a receiver attuned to the sudden beauty of a sky acceding gracefully to the hugeness of nighttime. But greatness is an issue of scope, not philosophy. Its bruteness can fall on me like a blow. I walk through the city, for instance, and amid the flickering traffic lights, painted roads, pulsating crowds, I feel the awful greatness of extinction press on me. Nothing about this current life, I feel, can last.

So I entrust my life to art, because it is the only company I know that can soothe me. Art remains the only greatness I can let myself witness without fear or shame. I read books that don’t help me decode any of my present worries, but nonetheless serve to calm them. I watch movies and let myself cry with emotion at their purity—not the purity of their morals, but of their expression. I talk to someone new with as much earnestness as I can muster, because all too often I can let an encounter pass me by without paying homage to the accretion of tenderness in how a stranger extends a hand or moves to let someone else by, and I know we will not get the chance to know ourselves and each other like this forever.


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