Smith wrote Just Kids to fulfill a promise she made to Mapplethorpe before he died, 20 years ago, of AIDS. It's a fitting book for me to be reading right now; I've been thinking a lot about my obligations to do something with my life, and to do the things people who couldn't be on Earth for long never had the chance to. Yesterday I found out that a kid I used to tutor died of cancer. He was in his early 20s. Salim was a refugee from Somalia, by way of Kenya and Tanzania. He was a sharp kid and a good person with an excellent attitude. While other teenagers on the West Side of Buffalo were out getting into trouble, being irresponsible and destroying things, he stayed home taking care of his younger brother and his nieces and nephews. And he never bitched about not getting to be a normal teenager. Salim did get to go to college for a couple of years, which is something he had wanted, but other than that, never had much of a chance to enjoy life. And now he's gone.
His story, and Smith's, and Mapplethorpe's, are all reminders that our time on Earth is limited and that we only get one chance to make it count. Smith approaches her subject with honor and reverence. She is also a wonderful writer. It's a compelling read.