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On Sex and Death, and Writing Obituaries

Over the past several months, I have found myself writing obituaries and appreciations of different folks for various outlets. I wrote about Smokin' Joe Frazier for HBO and Discovery News; also for Discovery, I have written of late as well about evolutionary biology pioneer Lynn Margulis and, today, F. Sherwood Rowland, the Nobel prize-winning chemist who saved us all, when he realized that CFCs had the potential to destroy the ozone layer and promptly sounded the alarm.

It's a moving process, writing even a relatively brief blog about somebody's passing, attempting to sum up a life in 500 words. I have been feeling somewhat melancholic about mortality ever since my father's death, and each one of these pieces I write makes me all the more reflective. i think especially today of Professor Rowland, a man who, frankly, saved the world; and yet, who knows him? How many of the public know his name, or knew who lived? How many will know he died over the weekend?

Lynn Margulis' obit in particular sparked something within me. She was the one who discovered, essentially, why life began to have sex, and that the mitochondria within our cells are evidence that the cells in our bodies are the result of a symbiotic fusion, eons ago, of different unicellular, asexual lifeforms. One consequence of the evolution of sex was the arrival of death, and I concluded my obituary by noting that she had succumbed "to the fate that will eventually meet us all, the inevitable conclusion of a train of events that, as she identified, was set in motion billions of years ago, when one cell invaded another." This circularity, the fact that sex begat death, which impels continued sexual reproduction, is one I'm grappling with as I contemplate a way in which, perhaps, I can use it as the kernel of a book, one that might allow me also to experience some kind of catharsis through its writing.
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