Friday, April 13, 2007

some understanding.

many people around the world took a moment yesterday to eulogize kurt vonnegut, and i appreciated that. and while i have nothing new to add to the mountain of melancholy over his death or to the eloquent expression of why his work mattered (for me, tart's observations hit most close to home), i didn't want to let the occasion pass without marking it here in my own little corner of the universe.

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.

4 comments:

Toast said...

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.

Wow. You kick ass.

Cinnamon said...

yep, my butt is mightily sore right now

This is a great piece of grounding though, Kate. Thanks for that on a Friday morning.

reasonably prudent poet said...

nice. thanks for this. i've spent too much of my life having the christian god pounded over my head. it's nice to read something rational and kind for a change.

Kate said...

This might be the best Vonnegut eulogy I have read. Thanks for this, Kate.