Generally, as a human, I don’t give much thought to extinction. Total annihilation from the earth: not one specimen left of your kind, is not something Humans, as a species, need worry about in the near future (unless some terrible war, famine, or disease wipes us out). Yet, last night at work, as I stared at the beers on tap and thoughtlessly ran my fingers over the rough edges of the stainless steel bar I was standing behind, I thought of extinction in a more abstract way: as a means to explain why I protect people in my thoughts that I might otherwise dismiss forever.

The definition of Extinction has a couple of meanings, but they basically boil down to: “a coming to an end or dying out.” That definition need not wholly apply to a species, it could also apply to an emotion or a way to feel toward others, right? I reflected on how, in my mind, people have gone “extinct” within the universe of my brain. Their “species” no longer roam the fields anymore, save for a few traces, bones, and bits of DNA that could be left over for an excavation years later. 

I imagined the people in my life who have gone extinct. I reflected on how once, there was an abundance of them, and now: only pieces to dust off and look at in a museum. It made me sad. Humans can go extinct, just on a much smaller level than a mass apocalyptic melt-down of the entire race. The real scary part is when I realize that someone is on the endangered species list in my brain. Wait a minute, I haven’t seen that person in a very, very long time. How many of them are there? Are they being protected?! We need to make an awareness of this dire situation! Save them!  And suddenly, a person who is falling off the face of my map, may become the top of the list of important things to do. I should go see them. I don’t want to lose that friendship/relationship with that person! 

But, here’s a weird paradox: what if the species that has now become the top of the endangered list, say the American Burying Beetle, is really a nasty, gross, really hard to like, bug? Does one have to dismiss the disgust and still preserve the wonder that this insect is? Even if the Beetle is a total asshole to the ants and the grasshoppers, even if the Beetle is selfish and self-absorbed, that stupid Beetle that no one likes moves up to a new status which suddenly makes sightings an important discovery. So, an asshole bug is now a species that people want to see more of, because that means that that bug won’t be gone forever. 

People in my life are kind of like that. “Sighting today of that jerk from High school on the subway. Many thought that idiot would have been worm meat due to a lack of any foresight, however, recent steps have been taken to ensure that the otherwise massive waste of public oxygen, will be preserved in memory to the best of our ability for future generations. Although many have cited that the Jerk is the reason for getting accused of cheating on that quiz freshman year, it is important to remember that in the delicate web of life, that person still plays a part.” 

So, as I felt the lifeless dry blast from the air conditioner above my head, and smelled the fumes of money and metal last night at work, I tried to switch my brain to thinking about what is worth saving. Total extinction is pretty extreme. And when someone goes extinct from my life, like a friend or lover, the web of life changes and shifts. A person’s memory is important, and should be protected, even if there are highly unpopular qualities of that being, right? The asshole Beetle really is an asshole… and would the web of life really be changed in a negative way if that Beetle was let to die out? Hmm, actually, the scientists are still out to lunch on that idea. 

July 7, 2012 at 5:14 pm by Natalie Allen