I sit eating my simple breakfast and watch a bird out the window as it hops and flutters from branch to twig and back again. An ordinary little thing, busily following the urges of its feathered kind to eat, stay safe, reproduce.
We humans have the same urges, except in more complicated form. We’ve turned dining into an art form, an industry, an elaborate set of social rituals. We seek safety not merely from the elements or true predators, but also from concocted and cultivated enemies. Reproduction? Necessary as always for the continuance of the population, but when is the last time we’ve really cared about that? No, we follow the urges—sexual and intimate—for their own sake. When we find an intimate partner whose company we would like to have as a fixture in our lives for the foreseeable future, we may embark on the project of bringing another generation into our circle. Whether we do that via our own sexual act or by adoption or surrogacy seems to matter little these days. However we do it, it results in continuity. The population continues. The species continues.
Some of us participate in continuity in other ways, choosing or accepting not bringing another generation into our intimate circle, while being useful in other ways to our society and culture, ensuring continuation that nurtures the next generation.
On this road trip, I’ve been driven by the desire to learn more about a particular relative of mine, a great-uncle who never had children, the kind of individual who is almost inevitably neglected by those of us who engage in ancestry projects of various kinds. I’m writing a story, but it won’t be a story about him. It will be a story inspired by what he’s teaching me. I’m almost ready to start writing it.