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Living with Camus Isn't Bad at All

On this day, January 4, in 1960, Albert Camus died in a car crash. That’s the bad news.

The good news: he isn’t bad to live with today.

In a 2010, Economist article, we read that “History finds Camus on the right side of so many of the great moral issues of the 20th century. He joined the French resistance to combat Nazism, editing an underground newspaper, Combat. He campaigned against the death penalty. A one-time Communist, his anti-totalitarian work, “L'Homme Révolté” (“The Rebel”), published in 1951, was remarkably perceptive about the evils of Stalinism. It also led to his falling-out with Sartre, who at the time was still defending the Soviet Union and refusing to condemn the gulags”.

In my own copy of The Stranger by Camus, I have a few things underlined. Which is odd because it’s more story and novel than quotable philosophy. “I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn't,” is one of those phrases. In our technocrazy world, understanding what we are and are not interested seems worth the effort. Some say too much information is the issue. Perhaps, it’s simply too much that asks us to be interested, when, we’re really not.

Yet, Camus is more helpful than that. It’s not just interest versus non-interest. That’s a self-absorbed lens through which to look. Camus truly does seek to be human, in my opinion, and because of that, he asks us to face those things we’d rather ignore. Darkness, despair, unhappiness, and the list can go on. The lack of interest we all deal with in our information age is simply, and I think Camus touches on this effectively, a sincere numbness that is difficult to handle with love and depth.

French philosopher, Luc Ferry, in his book A Brief History of Thought puts it this way: “And sooner or later we are confronted—sometimes due to a sudden event that breaks our daily routine—with the question of what we are doing, what we should be doing, and what we must be doing with our lives—our time—as a whole,” (13).

As a confession, I have long felt short on time. I want to linger longer with certain people and often feel pulled in obligatory directions to pay bills, play certain roles, or be a responsible citizen. Yet, I love and I am emotional and I want to spend more time with those who capture my imagination and who I love deeply.

Camus is helpful.

"I have not stopped loving that which is sacred in this world.”

Well said and worth noting, don’t you think?

Can Camus be a downer or depressing at times? Yes. As a contemporary of Sartre in a time that saw the atomic bomb, Hitler, and atrocities rise, I can both appreciate the sadness and dark parts of some of the work of Camus. And as I watch the current news cycle and read the comments of many outraged citizens online, one would think that despair is winning the day.

That’s not the story of Camus, though, and that’s not necessary to buy in to either.

Camus writes: “I have always loved everything about you. Even what I didn’t understand. And I have always known that, at heart, I would have you no different. But most people don’t know how to love. Nothing is enough for them. They must have their dreams. It’s the only thing they do well. Dreaming. They dream up obligations. New ones every day. They long for undiscovered countries, fresh demands, another call. While some of us are left with the knowledge that love can never wait. A shared bed, a hand in yours, that’s the only thing that matters.

In a world that needs kindness and in a world that seems hell bent on retweeting cutting edge criticism, I am banking on the fact that loving someone, we may not even fully understand, still matters and isn’t a bad way to live at all. 

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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.