20041113-002 Lourmarin Tombstone Albert Camus.
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By Edward Curtin
"To give up beauty and the sensual happiness that comes with it and devote one's self exclusively to unhappiness requires a nobility I lack. However, after all, nothing is true that compels us to make it exclusive. Isolated beauty ends in grimaces, solitary justice in oppression. Anyone who seeks to serve the one to the exclusion of the other serves no one, not even himself, and in the end is doubly the servant of injustice. A day comes when, because we have been inflexible, nothing amazes us anymore, everything is known, and our life is spent in starting again. It is a time of exile, dry lives, dead souls. To come back to life, we need grace, a homeland, or to forget ourselves. On certain mornings, as we turn a corner, an exquisite dew falls on our heart and then vanishes. But the freshness lingers, and this, always, is what the heart needs. I had to come back once again."
Albert Camus, "Return to Tipasa"
For a writer to fight injustice to the exclusion of creating beauty and living passionately contradicts the deepest desires of the human heart. Albert Camus taught us this. The love of life must inform the rebel's resistance to injustice. "It seems to me that the writer must be fully aware of the dramas of his time," he writes, "and that he must take sides every time he can and knows how to do so." But his refusal, his no, does not imply a renunciation but an affirmation, a yes, to the joy and grandeur of life that is everyone's birthright.
This is the difficult way of true art the rebel writer's way the tension that the writer must live with as he shuttles back and forth between one's heart's desires and his commitment to resist evil. What is the point of fighting for a better world if one does not live as if that world were here now, and one's living and writing were the revelation of that reality. Camus somewhere said something to the effect that it is not your writings that I like, it is your writing. He knew that we are always on the way, and our wayfaring should prefigure the enigma of our arrivals.
It is spring as I write and I am thinking of Camus when that exquisite dew fell on his heart that early morning. No doubt Albert felt a bit of heaven. I'm feeling it now. Spring, the time of the resurrection of the living dead. All around new life bursts and blooms in wild array. A mountain stream races down the hillside, shouting its joy that the earth's new warmth has freed it at last from its frozen sleep. In the trees all around the birds have returned and sing exultantly of their homecoming. Almost before our eyes the flowers push their way up to the light. They have had enough of the underground, hungrily seeking the sun. It is a beautiful dawn, and I can smell it. I feel as though I have awoken from a long and deep sleep. The morning star welcomed me. The sun rose majestically. And across my window three early flies jitterbug in the first light. The whole earth is conspiring to explode with life and it is asking for our assent.
But dare the living-dead awaken? Shall we say yes to this paradise?
"This day you will be with me in paradise." That's what a man, convicted of crimes against the state and dying fast, once said. Like most memorable statements, it is open to various interpretations. But suppose, instead of offering one, we assume the existence of paradise, and ask a question that lurks unspoken and forbidden in every heart.
For there are some questions so obvious that we refuse to ask them for fear of having to answer. To be asked such questions seems an impertinence, an insult to our intelligence, and an assault on our integrity. Don't be ridiculous, we think, though we don't laugh. Isn't it obvious, we vaguely mutter, secretly knowing it is nothing of the sort. We are caught off-guard, something we don't do to ourselves. Even our dreams escape us. We prefer to live in the clouds.
But let's be daring for once. Let's put aside all our usual lies and evasions and not be afraid of the truth. Let's ask ourselves a few very simple and annoying questions, the kind children ask their tongue-tied parents, and let's not squirm away from answering.
What images of death do we live with?
Or, to put it another way, if you believe in life after death, what image of heaven do you entertain? Not what do you think heaven is, but what do you desire it to be? If you object and say you don't believe in life after death, the question is still valid. For we are, of course , here playing a game of the imagination. You need only make believe, for the hell of it, that there is life after death. Or life before.
What would you like it to be? Imagine. What would you like this life to be? Maybe that's the real question.
The trouble with being born, of course, is that we are guaranteed to die and be aware of it most of our lives. When it comes to dying, we have no choice; death is our fate and against it freedom is a meaningless word. Living is another matter, though it is not something we generally give much thought, for we can choose not to live when breath is still ours. We are free to wait lovingly for annihilation by patiently enduring our lives, or we can commit quick suicide.
We don't have to live, but we must die. In our bitterness we may curse the fact that we find ourselves alive in the world; we didn't ask for it. This is obviously true and equally meaningless. Once we find ourselves alive, death is our destiny, like it or not. Whether life is a living hell for us or just a dull plod through the years a "hanging in there," in those unconsciously evocative words we hold in our hearts, however buried, images of what we would like life to be like if it were eternal.