much has been made, in all these obituaries and rememberances, about vonnegut's humanism. i'm happy about that. while i don't consider myself a humanist per se (i don't consider myself anything, really, but that's another issue for another day!), vonnegut's discussions of humanism always struck me as both eminently rational and beautiful in their simplicity. the quote being most circled, understandably in this circumstance, is this one:
I am honorary president of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great, spectacularly prolific writer and scientist, Dr. Isaac Asimov in that essentially functionless capacity. At an A.H.A. memorial service for my predecessor I said, "Isaac is up in Heaven now." That was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. It rolled them in the aisles....When I myself am dead, God forbid, I hope some wag will say about me, "He's up in Heaven now."
the passage i'd like to share here is only one page removed from the prior quote in Timequake, vonnegut's odd little autobiographic last novel. i take the time to quote it here now, sitting in my bathrobe and still rubbing sleep out of my eyes, because it seemed when i first read it - and still, when i re-read it today - an amazing encapsulation of what human kindness should be about.
Humanists try to behave decently and honorably without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. The creator of the Universe has been to us unknowable so far. We serve as well as we can the highest abstraction of which we have some understanding, which is our community.
i was just talking to BoyCat yesterday about my fear that my pessimism will overrun me at some point, that one day in middle age i will just throw up my hands and say "fuck it. humanity really isn't worth it anyway." but when i read this, i hope that day never comes. because it doesn't have to be "worth it," humanity, in order to deserve my care and effort and concern. it just has to be the biggest thing that i know how to handle, that i understand in a small enough way to be able to help.
so bless you, mr. vonnegut, for reminding me of that.