There are times when the kindness of strangers only makes things worse because one realizes how badly one is in need of kindness and that the only source is a stranger.

How little needs to stay the same for you to continue the effort they call, for lack of a better word, being human.

As the rifles were pointed at his chest he wondered if what he had taken for the richness of silence was really the poverty of never being heard. He had thought the possibilities of human silence were endless. But as the bullets tore from the rifles, his body was riddled with the truth. And a small part of him laughed bitterly because, anyway, how could he have forgotten what he had always known: There’s no match for the silence of God.

My child, My love and my regret, as you were when I first laid eyes on you, a tiny old man who hadn’t the time to brush off his ancient expression, naked and misshapen in the nurse’s arms.

Only later did I come to understand that to be a mother is to be an illusion. No matter how vigilant, in the end a mother can’t protect her child – not from pain, or horror, or the nightmare of violence, from sealed trains moving rapidly in the wrong direction, the depravity of strangers, trapdoors, abysses, fires, cars in the rain, from chance.

There were other refugees around him experiencing the same fears and helplessness, but Litvinoff didn’t find any comfort in this because there are two types of people in the world: those who prefer to be sad among others, and those who prefer to be sad alone. Litvinoff preferred to be alone.

Bird asked what a paleontologist was and Mom said that if he took a complete, illustrated guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shred it into a hundred pieces, cast them into the wind from the museum’s steps, let a few weeks pass, went back and scoured Fifth Avenue and Central Park for as many surviving scraps as he could find, then tried to reconstruct the history of painting, including schools, styles, genres, and names of painters from his scraps, that would be like a paleontologist.

I did it for myself alone, not for anyone else, and that was the difference. It didn’t matter if I found the words, and more than that, I knew it would be impossible to find the right ones.

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