Tag Archives: Camus

Anger, Fear, The Plague & Trump

Christ and Sisyphus

“Jesus! I feel like my entire life is a protest now.” “That just means we’re free, Sis.”

Trump is a plague. He has mastered inspiring fear and rage. Not just in his supporters, but all over the globe. And certainly in myself, and most people I know. My therapist told me that the number and intensity of reports by clients regarding Trump is a phenomenon. Possibly even an emergent disease. So, he literally is a plague on humanity. So what do we do, besides suffer in fear and anger and hopelessness? What can we do?

I have a fascination with plague. It began very young. Maybe it was the first time I realized that something scary and dangerous can swoop down on me and my family at any moment, and with no “why.” That there is no cosmic purpose behind the suffering caused by disease, WWI, The Holocaust, or Donald Trump. Suffering has reasons, but no “Reason.” We give these events meaning in hindsight. And our reactions and actions during times of suffering give meaning to our lives and experience. It’s tempting to believe there is a form of “cosmic justice” to it all. But in the end, real people with lives and family died in the camps, while Hitler got off with suicide. People brought the Nuremberg Trials, not the cosmos. The Universe doesn’t care about Earth, or one single species. People must bring the meaning AND the justice.

So, what to do? What to do? Well, I read The Lord of the Rings three times in succession since the Election. And while that book has spiritual influences, it comes down to the individuals involved to each do their part to bring down Sauron, even the trees! And here we all are, so many reluctant heroes, wishing for the Shire and a big, wise Gandalf to hug, but this isn’t Middle Earth. And the winning of the War of the Ring had a lot of casualties, from the Elves, to the trees, to Frodo himself.

Tolkien has more in common with other post WWI and WWII writers than his fantasy war suggests. Today we’d call it PTSD. Seems to me the man was so traumatized by his experience of WWI that he invented other languages just to express his thoughts and feelings . But some authors used more common-place settings. In The Plague, Albert Camus set his story in a place so ordinary that it could be anywhere. And the characters could be any one of us.

The “heroes” in The Plague are a motley crew, like The Fellowship of the Ring. There’s Doctor Rieux, who just doggedly pursues his work while his wife is away for a tuberculosis cure . The political undesirable, who gets stuck in the town while on the run, and becomes the Doctor’s best friend. The guy who is motivated to be reunited with the woman he loves. And dear old M. Grande, the minor civil servant, who works tirelessly on his “great novel” by night, as he goes out of his way to ensure that The Doctor has everything he needs, and whose life (and great novel) are at last saved by the Doctor’s successful serum.

While much of the town in The Plague is dying of disease, the rest is taken over by hopeless drunken revellers, angry mobs attacking the poor, African section of the town, fear-mongers preaching God’s wrath and judgement, profiteers, and suicides. The sane characters — the heroes — are people who have accepted that the worst may happen to them. They too feel fear, anger, despair, but they choose to simply be decent human beings anyway. They all play their little part for both their own reasons and a common goal: ending the suffering caused by the plague and freeing the town from its quarantine — its fear, anger and despair. Their very existence is a protest against the inhumanity of suffering and a world turned upside down. Their lives and work together are a testament to Gandalf’s assertion that:

โ€œSome believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.โ€

There is a touching passage near the end Camus’ book, that describes why Doctor Rieux recorded the events of his experience during the plague, down to the detail that, amidst the tearful reuniting of loved ones after the crisis, his wife never returned from her “cure.” The quote has been honored with a plaque in New York City, on Library Way (East 41st Street between Madison & Fifth Ave.). And I will leave that here for reflection.

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Let this be said of all of us, when the story of this time of plague is written.

Whatever your method or motivation, never forget those who suffer, bear witness, and choose decency. That is how we defeat the plague of Trump, anger, fear, and despair.

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JKHOA 2.3 I am Beat

albert-camus-c

Albert Camus

Probably ought to have qualified my announcement that I have the Plague. I call any illness plague because I’m really into the plague. It’s true. Goes back to my childhood and my Dad. I remember being about 15 when he threw Camus’ book at me with the statement, “Read this if you want to understand human nature.” (It was a soft-cover.)

He considered himself a “Beat”. ย He had returned from Korea and went to art school in the mid-50s, so that was his era. He explained to me that because he could never learn everything, read every book, go everywhere, and do everything in his life, that he was beat from the start. He tried to give me a better shot than he had.

I remember when he’d play music or a movie, he’d shout in his 1st Sergeant way “Listen! Listen! Listen!”, ย “Pay attention!” and “Focus!” at the climatic moments of say: Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma or The Beatles’ A Day in the Life, or at that iconic bone to space station cut in 2001. I found it irritating at the time, but I did develop the habit of listening, ย paying attention and focus.

The result has been two-fold. First, I learn fast because I’m paying attention. But dear me, it’s never enough. Now I have to learn everything about everything I learn about. But you know what I’ve realized? I’m beat.

One person simply cannot learn, master and do it all. It clutters the “brain attic” and diverts attention. At some point you simply have to accept not knowing, not being the best and not giving a damn. So you have to give up on some aspects of life, the Universe and everything. You have to choose what matters. You cannot care about it all.

In Camus’ The Plague we find characters quarantined in an isolated port town on the edge of North Africa surrounded by only desert and sea. They have limited choices in the face of the hand life has dealt them, bubonic plague (because sometimes life just sucks for no reason). ย Some people use the chaos for their own benefit, some have internal limitations that keep them from doing as much as they could, others rage against the unfairness of the situation, some try to keep up appearances. But eventually an odd kinship grows up around a Doctor and a group of misfits who are willing to put themselves out there in whatever capacity they have to fight for the life of their town and its people.

My favorite character is M. Grand. Grand is a low-level civil servant, but the only person still willing to do his job after all the other officials have either fled or died. He keeps all of the statistics by neighborhood, issues necessary permits and generally keeps the town running. ย All while continuing his secret labor, working on his great novel. He carefully re-writes its first sentence every day. He tells the Doctor that he’s even gone back to the original Latin roots of words to get at their essence. His apartment, bereft of love since his wife left him, is full of his notes for his life’s work. His dream is that one day he’ll submit to a publisher, that publisher will complete his manuscript (apparently aloud to a room of rapt listeners), stand, and declare “Gentlemen, hats off!”

Of course, Grand is taken with the plague. And he burns all of his manuscript and notes. It is the low-point of the book. But he is given the first of a new serum, and he lives. And he continues his book.

Of course, the Doctor, the hero, who has coordinated every effort and done all he could, watches many tearful reunions after the quarantine on the town is lifted. But there will be none for him. His wife, who’d been sent away to a medical facility before the book began, has died. No tearful reunions. No life’s ambitions renewed. Just his work.

Pay attention. This is important. Listen. We’re all beat from the start. We all live under the sword. Focus on what you can and must do. Learn whatever you can while you still have time. Never burn your manuscript. Ultimately you do not know. None of us do. We may all be beat, but go down swinging.

 

 

 


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