Bryan was a teacher's assistant. He believed his gift was the ability to make others more aware. I thought he was just tiresome.

"But there are millions of them. How much is the penny worth?" prodded Bryan.

"One cent," I said, absentmindedly. I was not in the mood.

"No. Less. It actually costs more than one cent to create a penny," Bryan said, earnestly looking in his coat pocket for, I assumed, a penny to further enhance this lesson. "Anyway," he extracted an empty hand from his coat, "that's not the point."

"And what is the point?" Once he'd begun, I'd learned long ago, there was no stopping Bryan. I wanted this to take its course as quickly as possible.

"There are five billion people on the planet. How much is a human life worth?"

"I don't know. A penny. A million pennies. Five billion. What does it matter?" I pictured a beautiful woman, asleep on her bathroom floor. How much is a human life worth? A pill? A million pills?

"It matters. With that many lives, each of our individual lives decreases in value. We've procreated ourselves out of importance."

"And into self-importance, from what I'm hearing," I added irritably. "Let's get a cab. I'm sick of being here."

I was amazed at my behavior. There were no waves of sorrow. There was only anger and intolerance. Bryan had gotten the message. He was quiet as we walked toward the taxi.