The Best Minds of My Generation

Heath Ledger’s death is particularly poignant to me because he is, like yours truly, 28 years old.

As to how he died or why he left long-term partner Michelle Williams, one of the bright lights of American cinema, I have no idea, and I hate to even speculate. All I know is that Ledger was a terrifically talented young man, and he brings to mind other terrifically bright people I’ve known who’ve died prematurely. I spent much of yesterday at the National Museum of Natural History, home of American taxidermy’s greatest hits, and I was struck by two things: first, pretty much everyone commented on nothing but the “cuteness” of the various animal carcasses on display, including those of some pretty unsightly animals. This was true of a trio of grizzled bikers and small children alike. Second, have you seen the tiny pink armadillo? Its protective outer shell dwarfs the rest of its body, and that makes sense given its hostile natural environment.

Which is to say: when I see friends and loved ones in hard times, I wish they had a protective outer shell, but of course that isn’t in the cards. Ledger, a stranger to me, had an extraordinary life and a young child. I wish his family well. He dies about a week after my last paternal uncle, a fascinating character in his own way, also took his last breath. My father, one of six siblings and the oldest of four brothers, is now the last of the Salam men of his generation, which is pretty galling and tough to take, particularly given the circumstances of their deaths.

It’s a dark day in Washington. My generation will, I suspect, be the last human generation in either a very good way (we will transcend our limitations, we will live incredibly long lives, we will expand our moral imaginations, and in the process we will become something better than human) or in a very bad way (we will all be killed by nanite goo). So I hate the thought of any one of us biting the dust and missing the adventure to come, though of course that is as it must be.