Our offices were in a turret on the south side of the building. Our film editing room was on the fifth floor of another section of the building, so it was a long walk between the two. Late at night the return took me through halls where work lights illuminated shards of far-off tribes; long dead beasts, artifacts of cultures I never knew or could ever know.
On one wall an accident of light fell on a large coiled tile. It was a ceramic spiral, a time clock showing the history of life on earth. At one minute to twelve Man entered life on this planet. A tiny tile in green represented some fifty thousand years in a three-billion-year whirl. Enter Homo sapiens, sapiens. Man who knows he knows.
I was nothing, a speck of dust in the last groove of the spiral.
Aeschylus wrote, “Wonders there are many, but none more wonderful than man.”
Newton wrote, “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
A museum is a walled collection of death.
During World War II, I had known the fear of death, but death came wrapped in panic. The beet field, the chicken coop, and Lipsky were mortality wrapped in terror. But the end did not arrive. It would later, but I stopped thinking about it once I was out of danger. Death went far from my mind.
In the Hall of the Incas, traversing the Hall of the Mammals, walking through the Birds of the Pacific, mortality surrounded me. Among the Jurassic Dinosaurs the bones were startling, but the blanket of death was larger than Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Dr. Simpson’s argument, Darwin’s thesis; life cannot progress unless there is death. Even the smallest unicellular paramecium dies when it reproduces. The cell that was one has become two; though the individual has reproduced itself, the original cell is gone. The overriding natural law in the study of natural history is that all living things must lose their lives.
That is why we are all mad.
We know this first premise of natural law, but for us to survive, the law of universal death must be forgotten—or daily life is impossible. Sanity is retained only if our inevitable and logical end is put aside, forgotten. For thinking man, madness restores common sense.
The second law of natural history is that the old must breed the young. Once the old have spawned they are sometimes permitted to live longer, but nature has little use for them. It is youth that is urged on with the sensual glories of sexual reproduction.
Nature demands death, but death must be preceded by reproduction. To bring new life is the duty of the old organism.
The evolutionists say that natural law demands death so that certain of the young will adapt better to a changing environment. Homo sapiens could not have evolved had the lesser hominoids not mutated in reproduction and produced modern man.
The duty, necessity and fierceness of the law of reproduction are inflexible. Reproduce, and then die is the totality of natural law. This is too cruel for the religious who demand that the Universe give Man an immortal soul.
The anthropologist Earnest Hooten noted that God could have placed the soul in man anytime He chose. He chose to give a soul to Homo sapiens, and not to the earlier hominoids.
For the evolutionist, and for the American Museum of Natural History, the immortal part may be the calcium deposit in the bones and teeth.
I did not like that last walk from the editing tower to my room in the turret overlooking West 73rdd Street. I did not want to be reminded that I would die someday.
I came back that midnight to find a note: “Call Sig Mickelson (my boss) whenever you get this.” I called.