Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died this past week, but it is not true to say that we suffered a terrible loss with his passing.
There can be no question that his passing will be noted. If not all of us collectively, I, at least, will certainly miss him. But Mr. Vonnegut described to us throughout his life the one true, terrible loss we all suffer without exception. His work was an obituary he wrote to us over and over to remind us of a thing that was already gone, but one that he exhorted us to become aware of. His reminders were intended to move us, finally, to take the steps in our power to gain that thing back.
Our true loss is our discarded humanity. It is our shared international cultural goal to slip out of the bonds of kindness, rationality, and responsibility to one another faster than the next human in the race. In short, our terrible loss is our missed chance to be good.
We should be bereaved to see our curmudgeonly kind man of letters pass. He treated us as a friend, and we need as many of those as we can get. But do not take off the black crepe when the customary time for mourning a man and a friend has elapsed. Mourn then that in his stead among men of letters in our day there are few but dandies. Mourn then that among men of peace there are few with influence. Mourn then that, because of this, once our selfishness has seen to it that we’ve used up the means to support everything we’ve become, once we’ve surpassed our capabilities to replenish all the clever devices that support who we are, and once our balance of mutual enmity passes into a permanent and irreconcilable surplus- our computers, our stereos, our printing presses, our guitar amplifiers, our televisions, our automobiles, our trains, our refrigerators, our airplanes, our libraries, our roads, our post offices, our museums, our clean water, our food, our stories, our poetry, our art, our love, our families, our cultures, our cities, our civilisation- all of this, even the letters that make up the words you’re reading now, will probably be irretrievably lost.
And then, Goddamnit, stop mourning. Be different. Be kind. Be good. We don’t have any more time to waste.
Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut! Would that you could have said at the end, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” Would that it might one day be true.
April 18, 2007