08/14/2014 09:21 am ET Updated Aug 15, 2014

The Decade of Death

Within one day, we've lost two people whose lives were like the sun to the sunrise. It seems impossible to wake up without them in the world.

For seven decades. Lauren Bacall was the quintessence of cool; intelligent, elegant, passionate and permanent. She was a fixture in our cultural history, a constant presence in our lives.

Robin Williams, unlike Bacall, who burned slowly, was a comet who blazed across the sky. He arrived from outer space and never seemed to be of this world. How could he be? His mind channeled a thousand others; he knew what would keep us laughing while we were still gasping for breath from his opening riff.

This is the decade of death. For those of us born in the fifties and sixties -- Boomers and our younger brethren -- we are inevitably about to lose so many people who have been our touchstones. By 2020, the 21st Century Teens will have been a period of immeasurable loss and soul-wrenching grief.

And why, to paraphrase Passover, is this decade so different than any other?

Because of film and television.

Never before in human history have we had timeless ubiquity. Thousands of years from now, it will still be possible to watch the 19 year old Lauren Bacall ask seductively, "You know how to whistle don't you?" And if there is an Ork, its denizens will someday learn that "Nanu, Nanu" was spoken on earth by Robin Williams long before they had ever actually visited here.

The ineffable sadness of losses like Bacall and Williams comes entirely from the haunting truth that they will never leave us. Their voices, their talent, their images, cannot be erased by death. They are digitally immortal.

In some ways, of course, that is a comfort. But film and videotape lack one thing: the ability to surprise. Never again will we have a new Lauren Bacall moment. Robin Williiams' unbelievable capacity for spontaneity cannot, by definition, exist without him. Their performances will always dazzle, but over time they will become familiar echoes of a bygone era.

Life is loss. We are all born with an expiration date, even as we deny and struggle against it. These two passages are particularly painful, perhaps because they both first touched us when they were so young.

And so were we.