The world is ending and Jerome Xavier Harris is wondering about the color of a woman’s hair.
Not just any woman; this woman is president of the United States — at least in Seveneves, a novel from Neal Stephenson about the destruction of the planet and the plan put forth to ensure the survival of the human race.
Dr. Harris, aka “Doob,” has gathered with other eminent scientists and world leaders to broadcast an announcement telling the people of the world that the end is nigh. If you’re on Earth, you’re dead. But here’s a little ray of sunshine: A spacecraft will keep a few of us alive to carry on the human race. Hopefully.
While politicians communicate this doomsday message, Dr. Harris recalls the excessive attention paid to the gray streaks in the American president’s hair. Between pondering the lunar bombardment soon to destroy everything and everyone, he finds himself wondering deeply about the coloration himself, despite his disdain for the sexism and triviality of such an exercise.
It’s there, page 53 of 861, that a slice of wisdom pops free:
“And indeed he felt the requisite shame over the fact that he was paying any attention whatever to the president’s hair, on this of all days. But this was how the mind worked. The mind couldn’t think about the End of the World all the time. It needed the occasional break, a romp through the trivial. Because it was through trivia that the mind was anchored in reality, as the largest oak tree was rooted, ultimately, in a system of rootlets no larger than the silver hairs on the president’s head.”