Each year during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday, Jesus of Nazareth comes to Chimayó (chee-my-Ó), New Mexico, about 24 miles north of Santa Fe, in the form of approximately 30,000 pilgrims who re-enact Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion by walking, sometimes hundreds of miles, sometimes from as far away as Mexico and Louisiana, to visit the historic landmark Chapel.
At the Catholic chapel — officially named the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas, but more commonly known as El Santuario de Chimayó —
pilgrims often carry crosses as a symbol of Jesus’ Passion and sacrifice.
The Chapel offers guidance for pilgrims on their spiritual journey, advising them to “offer God [their] hunger, thirst, tiredness, pain,” much as Jesus suffered before his Crucifixion.
Roads are blocked off and sometimes closed to make room for the pilgrims, many of whom walk for days to reach Chimayó by noon, so that they can be there between 12-3 — the hours when Catholics and Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth suffered and died on the cross.
The chapel provides a map of routes for the pilgrims once they are closer to Chimayó, with advice and instructions on how to make their pilgrimage more spiritual.
Pilgrims who do not carry large crosses often have smaller ones, many of which are homemade, which they frequently leave on the fence (above) surrounding the open-air “chapel” (below) behind El Santuario.
Seeing all those crosses is very moving, no matter what your personal religious views. Visitors of all faiths and beliefs can feel the spiritual energy of the pilgrims who have traveled great distances to leave their offerings and gifts.
El Santuario del Chimayó has gained a reputation as a healing site. It is sometimes called the “Lourdes of America.”
The faithful believe that the “Little Well” of dirt from a back room of the church — from the land behind the Chapel, which was considered sacred by the Native Americans as well as by early Spanish settlers — can heal physical and spiritual ills, and it attracts close to 300,000 visitors a year.
Visitors and pilgrims may take some of the healing dirt with them (when we visited a decade ago, after we moved West, there was no charge for the healing dirt).
The room (above) leading to the “Little Well” of healing dirt is filled with crutches, walkers, statues, crosses, and other offerings.
The crutches and walkers have been left by pilgrims and visitors who return to El Santuario, as evidence that they were healed by the holy dirt.
Written prayers and supplications for healing are often left with photos of the sick persons, or the toys and shoes of afflicted children.
No matter an individual’s religious beliefs or background, one cannot help but feel compassion and some sort of hope upon seeing those simple offerings and tangible evidence of other pilgrims devout “prayers.”
There is also an outside grotto of children’s shoes and rosaries — offerings from some of those who have made the journey.
Some are left as “prayers,” while others are left as expressions of gratitude for healing.
Though, of course, visitors may take some of the healing dirt, they are asked not to steal any of the rosaries, photos, and other offerings left by pilgrims. (Rosaries can be purchased in the gift shop.)
The interior of the Chapel itself is beautiful, peaceful, and inspirational.
Visitors can spend time there, even when Mass is being conducted, as long as they are quiet and respectful of others’ religious beliefs.
The front altar is comprised of some of the most beautiful artwork I have every seen, and because El Santuario is an historic landmark, it is well preserved.
Unfortunately, if you’re not already in Chimayó or even New Mexico today, you will probably not be able to make it to El Santuario because of the crowd of pilgrims.
You can visit at any time of the year, however, as we did.
We found it more peaceful and moving when we went at a quieter time of the year, since it allowed us to be more introspective.
I meant to get a lot of writing done today. I hadn’t necessarily intended to do a blog, especially after I spent the entire morning doing the state taxes for our businesses (mine’s writing, of course), but I wanted to get some work done on that 15th Anniversary Edition of one of my books that I’m revising. Which was supposed to be published in December 2015.
Missed that deadline by being Mommy to a doggie that had to get an emergency tooth extraction, to one of our kitties who was diagnosed with uncontrolled diabetes and who had to be hospitalized (who’s now in remission), to another kittie who has FORLS — a dental disease found in 20% of Rescue cats which causes their teeth to break and expose the root — requiring two emergency tooth extractions, and to another kittie who has Stomatitis, an auto-immune disease in which the cat is allergic to the natural bacteria on its own teeth, causing its tongue, gums, palate, and throat to get inflamed and swollen, leaving the cat in great pain and unable to eat or drink. The only possible cure: complete extraction of all her teeth. But she still occasionally gets lesions on her lips, allergic lesions, which cause her great pain and prevent her from eating. So she has to get NSAIDs every third day, and get blood work every three months to make sure her kidneys are functioning properly.
As if that weren’t enough to keep Mommy from having any writing time over the last few months, the dreaded HAIRBALL Season has begun.
If you have cats, you know what I’m talking about. That horrid time of year when the weather begins to warm and cats’ hair begins to shed. Only it usually ends up in their mouths and digestive tracts from grooming before it gets a chance to be swept up by your vacuum. Last week, it was 50-60F every day. Shed-city.
And before we knew what was happening, Hairball Disaster Zone.
Sascha is leading in this race to cover the house with slimy, disgusting, smelly hairballs. She’s hurled 7 of them just in the past few days, 4 of them this morning and this afternoon. None of them has been less than 5 inches long, and each is as wet as a dripping beach towel. I’m thinking of giving up washing the blanket I put on the couch to protect it. Water is a more precious commodity in the desert than a couch, even if it does get stained. Meanwhile, Sascha, who doesn’t think much of the hairball gel, is giving me the Evil Eye and the Arched Back from the top of the highest Cat Tree in the house.
Eli’s become a real pro at this Hairball Game. He can drag out a Hairball, leaving little gnarly puddles of food and… well… imagine it… all around the room in a circle before he finally coughs up one humongous hairball. His must be at least 6 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. It wouldn’t be so bad if he did it all in one place, like Sascha, but he prefers to try to cover as much ground as possible while discharging the hairball and all its accompanying contents. He’s only done 3 today, but when you have to clean the entire carpet in the room each time he hurls one, it makes it seem like so much more.
Ling seems to be annoyed that the LongHairs are getting all the attention, so she dropped 3 in an hour today. And even though she likes the taste of the hairball gel, she made us chase her for half an hour before letting us get some into her. Then she stalked away and promptly ejected another gnarly mess.
Trixie just gave us the Evil Eye To The Max when we tried to approach her with the tube of hairball gel: I believe she feels she has “done her time” — for life — after being subjected to Blood Glucose tests, which require ear-pricking, and insulin shots for the past 2.5 months. Don’t tell her she might come out of remission: she might run away and join the circus.
Sophie is totally simpatico with Trixie on the hairball thing, even if she does like the taste of the gel if she’s in the mood. Neither of them were in the mood today. And both of them like to expel their hairballs on the top of things like my computer keyboard, my desk, the book I’m currently reading, my iPad (cover closed, thank god).
Baxter likes the gel, but not all the commotion. After depositing his slippery hairball gifts on the kitchen chairs today, he jumped up onto the top of the cupboards. I guess he thought it might be fun to see us climbing on chairs and ladders to try to catch him. We eventually surrendered to his High Ground, though I’m sure there’s a pile of hairballs up there by now.
Shooter Tov — THE Alpha male in this household — not to be outdone by his little brother Baxter, who sometimes gets the privilege of playing Alpha Male if Shooter’s taking a nap, watched Baxter cover the cushions on the kitchen chairs, watched Mommy and Daddy sponge-sponge-sponge-ing them off, and then climbed onto the kitchen table and decorated it with a hairball that would rival any canvas of Jackson Pollock’s.
The only person who has NOT expelled a hairball today is Sadie-Doggie, but she’s been following the cats around as they do them because she loves the hairball gel and insists on getting some each time one of them does. Mommy’s trying to write and Sadie’s begging for more gel. I can just hear her asking, What does a dog have to do to get some yummy-yum-yum hairball gel around here? Cough up a hairball?
And I’ve just been told that Shooter is attempting to deposit a slimy gift in my bag, which I accidentally left sitting on the kitchen chair while I went to clean up Sascha’s latest offering.
Ahh, the life of a Mommy.
I had to write this blog today to remind myself that I am actually also a writer.
After its brief departure into silliness and bad storytelling in episode 3, when Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny) met the Were-Monster, The X-Files returned to form for episodes 4 — “Home Again” — and 5 — “Babylon.” There was the show’s signature humor in each episode, but handled in a much more sophisticated and subtle way than with the antics of the Were-Monster-Lizard episode. Also, the shows were spooky and mysterious, leading viewers to question many things moral and philosophical as our two fave agents investigated their latest cases.
In episode 4, Scully had personal issues to handle as well as professional ones. Her mother had a severe heart-attack and was in a coma. Though Scully went immediately to be with her, her mother kept asking for “Charlie,” who was apparently the youngest sibling of the three — Bill, Dana, and Charlie — and the one who’d had no contact with the rest of the family for years.
Despite working a spooky case, Mulder showed up at the hospital, giving Scully as much moral support as he could. Though he was unable to answer her questions about why her mother wanted Charlie, and not Dana or Bill, or why her mother was wearing a quarter around her neck, with a date whose significance Scully could not guess, Mulder was still there for his partner and the mother of his child.
The theme of mothers and children has been constant through this season, and episode 4 expanded it to a moral and philosophical level by including a case involving a city’s homeless, and the “Trashman” who was killing wealthy people who wanted to get rid of the homeless.
Despite many of the victims’ previous protestations to the contrary, they really wanted to get rid of the homeless: some for financial gain, some just for supposedly moral reasons (“to protect the schoolchildren from the homeless”). But the Trashman didn’t care about his victims’ reasons for wanting to dispose of the human “trash.” He just tore them apart and put them in the trash truck.
Eventually Scully and Mulder found their way to an artist’s “studio,”
where a homeless man admitted to “creating” the sculpture of the “Band-Aid Man,”
who, with the artist’s energy, thoughts, and will, had become alive — to protect the homeless.
Graffiti appeared depicting the Trashman after each crime, but even though Mulder saw it from the crime scene window, it was gone by the time he got outside.
It also disappeared from the piece of wall that two collectors wanted to sell for profit.
Trashman killed them, too.
He and his artist-creator were trying to protect the homeless, who were like the moral children of those who were more financially comfortable.
Scully and Mulder’s investigation was philosophically wrapped around the moral responsibility of biological parents and children, woven in the story of Scully’s dying mother and her “quest” for Charlie.
Just before Scully’s mother died, she regained consciousness, looked at Mulder, and called him “William” — the name of her husband, son, and grandson — saying that she had a grandson by that name. Scully was devastated, not only by her mother’s death, but by what she saw as a condemnation of her giving away her own son Will.
As Mulder held her, Scully asked why her mother would have said something like that. He didn’t know the answer.
Later, having disposed of her mother’s ashes, Scully told Mulder that she thought her mother had mentioned her grandson because Scully and Mulder had a moral responsibility to find out what had happened to him. Despite the fact that they had given him up “to protect him,” she now felt they had to make sure that he was safe.
It was spooky and sad. Its moral and philosophical overtones were excellently blended into the investigation which drove the main storyline.
And the love and connection between Scully and Mulder is obviously still there.
As Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again,” but you still have a responsibility to those who are your “children.”
The storyline of “Babylon” could have been taken right from contemporary headlines over the past ten years: suicide bombers of the Muslim faith kill in the name of Allah.
Only one of them doesn’t die. He’s in a hospital in a coma, with most of his head blown apart.
Though no one even knows his name, they want to question him in an attempt to find other sleeper cells of lone wolf terrorists. And even as the FBI is looking, a man is making bombs and instructing his fellows on exactly when to detonate them.
The show has some humorous moments, especially the agents Miller and Einstein, mirrors of Mulder and Scully, respectively.
Miller, Mulder, and Scully wanted to question the comatose bomber, but Einstein (above, 2nd from R) thought the idea was crazy. With a little wrangling, Scully got hooked up with Miller, explaining that her own experience in a coma let her know that the comatose can hear and can sometimes communicate.
Meanwhile, Mulder got with Einstein and got into a philosophical discussion with her on whether thought and words can form energy, create action, change behavior. She disagreed with his main points, but agreed to go with him to question the comatose bomber. She also agreed to provide Mulder with “magic mushrooms” so that he could “expand his consciousness” in order to communicate in an extraordinary way with the comatose man.
And then the humor kicked in. Mulder, supposedly tripping on ‘shrooms, take a magical mystery tour of Texas, where the bombing had occurred, complete with line-dancing to “Achy-Breaky Heart,”
the three Lone Gunmen, who now look like this,
instead of like this,
and a mysterious boat ride, possibly led by Charon, the Ferryman for the Dead in Greek mythology, repeatedly calling out “Row” while, in the back of the boat, in an attitude similar to Michelangelo’s Pietà, the comatose bomber was being held by his mother (as he would later be held by her in the hospital).
As Mulder approached the pair “in the boat,” the bomber whispered something.
Later, at the hospital, after the bomber had died, without speaking, Mulder related the words he’d “whispered” in the dream-trip. They were Arabic for Babylon Hotel/Motel, which is where they found the other group preparing for an attack.
It ended with Scully and Mulder walking across the field at his home, holding hands, discussing such philosophical things as Why is the Old Testament God so angry and vengeful? and Is that angry God the same as the angry God of the Koran who orders that infidels be killed? And since Agent Miller, who is fluent in Arabic, first thought Mulder was repeating “Babel,” as in the “Tower of…” Scully and Mulder also discussed that, ending the show with a poignant exploration of humans’ inability to communicate with each other on any meaningful level.
Next week is the finale to this 6-episode mini-series (season 10, they’re calling it) of The X-Files, and this household is going to be devastated. Except for the blip that was episode 3, this show has been stunning, intriguing, captivating, while at the same time being humorous, and exploring some of the most philosophical and moral questions man faces.
Without answering them.
Catch up on Fox if you’ve missed any of the episodes.
Enjoy Mulder’s “Country Madness” while on his ‘shroom trip, if you weren’t watching last night: he imitates Travolta’s character from Pulp Fiction’s dancing contest.
The United States Post Office (USPO) changed its name during the recent Great Recession to the United States Postal Service (USPS), for reasons which were never made clear to the public. But I can tell you that, instead of improving its Service with the name change, it has most seriously declined. To the point of absurdity. Make that Absurdity, as in where nothing in the world makes sense except to the uninvolved observer. And sometimes, not even to that person.
Yesterday, I had to mail two books to the UK, and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really know how much of the UK address is necessary for any object to reach its destination there. Furthermore, the USPS, still exactly like the USPO despite the change of name, has never updated its Customs Forms — though they’re intended only for International Mail — to include any other country besides the US and Canada. Still, I had to make a go of it: I had promised to mail some friends the books as gifts.
Books and addresses in hand, I gathered the materials I was told I would need, then went to a counter in the center of the room to fill everything out. There was rather a long line, and I didn’t want any other customers to have to wait behind me while I was trying to fill out the long Customs form. After I filled out both, I took my place in line again and went to the counter.
“Oh, no, you filled out the wrong Customs form,” said the Postal clerk who had given it to me himself. “You filled out the Long Form.”
“There’s more than one Customs Form?”
“You should have filled out the short one,” he said, sliding four of them across the counter to me.
“I have to fill out two for each package?”
“You gave me four. I only have two packages.”
“In case you make a mistake,” he said.
I took a deep breath. I let it out slowly and silently. Once again, I stepped to the side to fill in the forms. The Short Customs Form seemed identical to the Long Customs Form. One was simply on a larger piece of paper. Both had duplicates. Both requested the City, State/Province, and Country of Delivery, along with the Postal Code. Dutifully, I filled out the second set of required forms, now printing smaller and squeezing in the Postal Code into an area that couldn’t even hold 5 spaces, let alone 6, 7, or the 9 that’s required in the US’ Zip + 4, which was required for my address. I put the original forms into my bag, wanting the addresses to remain private, put the books in the boxes, and returned to the counter.
“You can’t use those boxes.”
“You gave them to me.”
“Those aren’t for International Mail.”
I pointed to the red printing on the box as I read it aloud: For International Mail Attach Customs Form in Place of Address Sticker.
“Nope. You have to use this,” said the clerk, handing me two cardboard envelopes.
“I’m mailing books.”
“Those are envelopes.”
“They’re for International Mail. You can step over to that empty counter. Here, these are the Address Forms for International Mail.”
“What about the Customs Forms?”
“Did you fill out the Short or the Long Forms?”
“Both, actually. Which do you need?”
“Where are the packages going?”
“Short. But you have to fill out these Address Forms to put onto the cardboard envelopes.”
By the time I unpacked the books from the boxes, put them into the envelopes, filled out yet another — even smaller — Address Form for each, I was sure I’d put the books into the wrong envelopes. I checked several times, but am still quite convinced that the books will end up in the incorrect places, and their recipients — who are expecting the books — will wonder why on earth I sent them some other books with cards to someone else. Meanwhile, almost 20 minutes after I first reached the USPO counter, I returned.
“International?” said the clerk, as if I had not been there three times already. “To what country?”
“Where’s that? New Zealand?”
“No. The UK.”
“T-h-e-U-K,” he said aloud as he typed. “Sorry. No The UK.”
“Did you try entering just UK?”
“U-K. Nope. No UK either.”
Though I had written Great Britain on the Customs Form next to UK — as well as on the Address Label — and he was looking at one or both of them as he typed, I said it aloud. He typed it in, then stared at me most solemnly.
“G-r-e-a-t-B-r-i-t-i-a-n. Nope. Nothing.”
“You spelled it wrong.”
“Are you sure?”
“You could read it off the Customs Form,” I said. “Or off the Address Label.”
He glanced down once more, typing one letter before looking down at the next, again saying each one as he typed it in.
“Nope. No Great Britain. Where are these books going?”
“To the UK.”
“We don’t have a UK.”
“To Great Britain.”
“Don’t have one of those either.”
I stared at him in silence while I thanked Buddha for giving me the opportunity to practice patience with the USPO-USPS clerk who apparently did not have to be either literate or very intelligent to earn his rather substantial salary.
“England,” I finally said. “Do you need me to spell it?”
He thought a moment before he began his laborious, one-finger, dictation-typing.
England and Ireland $24.97 popped up on the small screen facing me on the counter. Ouch, I thought when I saw the price. Still, the books were gifts. And the clerk had finally managed to find the correct country of destination. I attempted to smile.
“You found it.”
“Which one?” he said.
“Which one… what?”
“Which country is it going to: England or Ireland?”
“They’re the same price.”
“But I have to type in which country it’s going to.”
“England,” I said.
He typed in England once again. He told me the price, which was still showing England and Ireland $24.97 in front of me. He grabbed the next package.
“Going to the same place?”
“Not to the same city,” I said, “but to the same country.”
“And that is?”
I would like to tell you that he did not type it in again, that he just hit a Repeat button or something similar, that he did not make me listen to him spell out E-n-g-l-a-n-d as he typed in each letter, but I’m afraid that he repeated the performance. While I began to suspect that Godot might arrive before I managed to get the books sent out, the USPO clerk looked at the city I’d written on the second address label.
“Oh, London. That’s London, England?”
Somehow, I didn’t get the feeling that this particular postal clerk had ever heard of London, OH or London, KY or of any other London that might be located in the US. Actually, I was surprised he’d heard of London at all. Somehow, though, after 40 minutes with him, I wasn’t surprised that he’d asked me, once again, if it was in England. I submitted to fate and nodded.
England and Ireland $24.97 appeared a second time.
“Which one?” he said. “England?”
In Absurdist comedies, none of the characters ever laughs. Not in Beckett’s famous Waiting for Godot nor in Stoppard’s hysterical re-telling of Hamlet — told from the perspective of two minor characters in Shakespeare’s play — Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The audience might laugh, but the characters do not. The major characters in those works know that their lives don’t make sense, that their lives don’t make sense though everyone else’s seems to, that the Universe itself doesn’t make sense — at least, no sense that they can ever grasp — and that, additionally, everyone else seems to understand all the things they themselves can’t figure out, but the major characters do not laugh.
I can assure you, I wasn’t laughing either.
The problem was, neither was the USPO-USPS clerk.
Yet the USPS wonders why it’s bankrupt and has had to close so many of its offices.
I wanted to thank Buddha again for this extended opportunity to practice patience with my fellow man, but I admit, rather ruefully, that I am not yet spiritually enlightened: instead, I was using every ounce of energy in my body not to reach the short distance over the counter, grab the clerk by the hair, and slam his face into the metal scale, gleefully imagining the broken nose that would result. The only thing that stopped me was the vague idea that assaulting an employee of the USPO-USPS might be a federal crime.
“I’ve never had anyone send anything to England,” he said as he apparently searched for the button to total my cost for postage, Customs, and insurance on the two packages. “Will you be sending packages there often?”
“No,” I said, meaning not from this particular branch of the USPO. “No, I will not.”
“Too bad,” he sighed. “Just when I learned how to find England.”
Two of the most influential philosophers of the mid-twentieth century are French writers Jean-Paul Sartre (No Exit) and Albert Camus (The Stranger). The two started as friends, sharing many interests, and both were considered Existentialists during most of their careers, but when they began to disagree on Free Will, as well as on the responsibility of artists in political situations, their friendship disintegrated. When Sartre attacked Camus in print, their relationship ruptured.
Sartre believed himself the better philosopher, but envied Camus’ superior talent as a novelist & storyteller. Each had a major impact on the advancement of Existentialism as a philosophy, but, to Sartre’s dismay, the Existentialism of Camus — often revealed in his novels rather than in essays or in philosophy books — became the more attractive and enduring version of the philosophy during Sartre’s lifetime (Camus died young in a car accident) and subsequently.
Existentialism had been discussed and modified for quite a while before Sartre and Camus became intellectually engaged with it, and Existentialism was often associated with Nihilism, which purports that life has no meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value whatsoever: therefore, anything man does is pointless. Existentialism sans Nihilism took hold most strongly in Europe during World War II and immediately after. Sartre’s views on Existentialism are best stated in his massive philosophical tome Being and Nothingness, while Camus’ are revealed in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus.”
Existentialism in One Sentence
Stated most simply, Existentialism is the belief that “to exist is better than to not exist,” and that “life has no meaning except what each individual gives it.”
Existentialism and Angst
Both Sartre and Camus believed, as do other Existentialists, that the human condition begins with angst — German for anguish, despair, anxiety. Virtually all teenagers suffer periods of angst, though they may not label it with that term, and most people experience it at some other times in their life as well. After the death of loved ones, for instance, during wars, after being a victim of a crime, or when faced with serious personal crises, whether financial, health, marital, or legal.
Angst causes one to question the meaning of life, one’s purpose on earth, and the extent of one’s Free Will since, during events which cause periods of angst, it may seem as if an individual does not have Free Will. During these times, an individual becomes acutely aware that he is not in control of events or other persons in his life. This alone can cause despair. In reality, however, everyone always has the ability to choose his actions as well as his interpretation of events. Even a choice between two evils — a greater and a lesser — is still a choice, and thus an exercise of Free Will.
Awareness is the first condition of Existentialism because without awareness, one cannot make choices.
It is also important to note that in Existentialist philosophy, suicide is never an option since it negates the very premise of Existentialism, which is to exist.
Jean-Paul Sartre, 1905-1980
The title of Sartre’s most influential philosophical work, Being and Nothingness, displays, in itself, his view of man’s life. It is either “being” or “nothingness.” Sartre’s Existentialism is bleak. Though he strongly believed in Free Will, he states that man’s freedom to choose is an “awful responsibility.” It is a “burden” to be unable to rely on established organizations, such as religion or socialism, and have to make each choice oneself, independently. This awareness, in Sartre’s view, increases the angst of Existentialism.
Traditionally — though there are people who claim to be “Christian” or “Jewish” Existentialists, insisting that choosing to believe in Jesus or in God gives meaning to man’s life — Existentialists do not believe in God. They postulate that man is alone in the Universe, and so, for Sartre and those who are drawn to his version of Existentialism, Free Will and the choice to make one’s own meaning in life becomes a burden, an awful responsibility, rather than an opportunity for joy or creativity. For Sartre, “everything has been figured out except how to live,” and “freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.”
Camus saw things differently.
Albert Camus, 1913-1960
Existentialism vs Absurdism
Camus’ essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” best explains his view of Existentialism, which Sartre insulted as “Absurd,” meaning it belonged to the philosophy of “Absurdism,” best represented by Samuel Beckett’s tragi-comedy Waiting for Godot, where two characters endlessly await the arrival of a God-like being, Godot, without knowing exactly why they are supposed to meet him, or where, or when, but do nothing with their lives while they are waiting. Of course, Godot never arrives, so the protagonists’ lives are ultimately meaningless and “Absurd” because nothing in the Universe itself makes sense, and there is nothing man can do about it. Though some of Camus’ novels might examine Absurdism (The Stranger) or Determinism (The Plague) or other philosophies, his view of Existentialism is not necessarily “Absurd” in this sense.
Camus vs Sartre on Free Will & Choice
Camus’ vision of Free Will and man’s choice was diametrically opposite to that of Sartre. Whereas Sartre believed Free Will, Choice, and Freedom were an “awful responsibility,” reinforcing his bleak view of life and its meaning by placing a “burden” on each individual to give his own life meaning, Camus celebrated Free Will because each individual, thanks to freedom of Choice, could, in fact, choose to be content. “The Myth of Sisyphus” is where Camus most clearly explains his Existentialist philosophy, though he does not label it as such, and shows the difference between his and Sartre’s views of Free Will.
Sisyphus in Greek Mythology
Briefly, the story of Sisyphus is this: Sisyphus was King of (modern day) Corinth, known for his excessive deceit and hubris — overweening pride — the latter of which caused the downfall of many Greek protagonists. Sisyphus’ hubris involved his belief that he was more clever than Zeus himself — the Father of Gods and men, as well as the Head of the gods on Mount Olympus. Because Sisyphus created “havoc in the world” and committed “crimes against the gods,” he was relegated to the Fields of Punishment in Tartarus.
Tartarus and The Fields of Punishment
The shadowy world of Tartarus was unlike Hades, where the Shades of the dead simply were retained for eternity, without any punishment. Those confined to Tartarus were sentenced to an excruciating, endless, torturous punishments. Atlas, for example, was forced to hold the weight of the celestial spheres (not the world) on his shoulders and back. Tantalus, who betrayed the trust of the gods, suffered perpetual hunger and thirst while tormented with food and drink which were forever just out of his reach. Tityus, who raped Leto — mother of twins by Zeus — was staked to the ground while vultures ate out his liver, which regenerated so it could be plucked out again.
In Tartarus, the treacherous, deceitful, and boastful Sisyphus was forced to push a great bolder up a steep hill. Each time he reached the top, the boulder rolled back down, and Sisyphus had to repeat his dreadful task.
Sisyphus in Tartarus
Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus”
Though Camus claims, in his essay, that Sisyphus”personifies the absurdity of human life,” Camus concludes “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” (also translated as “content”) as “the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” These statements are directly contrary to Absurdism, which posits that life has no meaning whatsoever. Existentialism, however, asserts that life has no meaning except what each individual gives it and that individuals have choice and Free Will.
Why then “must one imagine Sisyphus happy” or “content”?
Camus does not say, but I can think of plenty of reasons to imagine Sisyphus “content.”
• Each time he rolls the great boulder up the hill, he has a purpose (though it was originally meant as a punishment), and having a purpose in life gives it meaning.
• By viewing his punishment as giving his “life” purpose, Sisyphus could be seen as “defeating” the gods, and he probably would have liked that, proud king that he was.
• Once Sisyphus reaches the top of the hill, he has accomplished a Herculean task, which could be viewed as satisfying, which is a good thing and which might make him “happy” or, at least, content.
• Most important of all, however, is the fact that, as Sisyphus walks back down the hill to the fallen boulder, he is completely free of his burden. This freedom alone could make Sisyphus content.
There are other Existential choices that Sisyphus could make as he walks back down the hill.
• There is nothing in the Greek stories that indicates he must run down the hill after the boulder, so he could choose to stroll down before resuming his burden. Strolling after a strenuous task would be pleasant.
• Sisyphus could also choose to be aware of the air cooling his sweaty skin, which would also be pleasing.
• He could choose to look at his surroundings — even if it is only the sky and the hill itself — which, after pushing that tremendous boulder up the steep hill, when he would probably see nothing but the boulder itself, could bring him contentment. At the very least, it would bring him a change in scenery, which could be considered desirable and enjoyable.
In short, Sisyphus has the Free Will to choose to find contentment in his punishment, rather than seeing it as a burden, which would further add to his physical and mental suffering.
This is Camus’ most significant contribution to the philosophy of Existentialism. Yes, man has Free Will. Yes, man has choice. And man can choose to be content.
Camus’ Version of Existentialism
There are many reasons given for the disintegration and rupture of the friendship between Sartre and Camus, including their differences of opinion on Communism and Colonialism. I’ve long suspected, however, that it may have been partly due to Camus’ more sophisticated and expansive interpretation of Existentialism, wherein an individual can not only choose to give meaning to his life, but he can also choose to be content. Not so in Sartre’s worldview, where Free Will is an awful responsibility and a burden. I suspect more readers have been influenced by Camus’ works than by Sartre’s.
Camus’ Existentialism in Everyday Life
Every day, each of us does, in fact, use his Free Will to make choices to be “content” or, at least, “more content.” We may drink our coffee or tea from a favorite mug, and that pleases us. We may change from shoes that pinch to a more comfortable pair: being comfortable makes us more content than being uncomfortable does. We could adjust our position in the chair at school or work so that it is less uncomfortable, and that in itself could lead to more contentment. We may garden, take a walk in a park, give and receive affection to pets, clean out the car, put away the laundry, wear a soft sweater that warms us when we’re chilly, straighten the garage, trim the branches of a tree that is blocking the scenic view at the window, eat a piece of our favorite pie for dessert, notice the softness of the pillow when we go to bed at night, become aware of the warmth under the blankets as we settle down to sleep.
Even awareness of the contentment that our choices bring us can make us more content.
Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien
Burden or freedom? Sartre or Camus? In the past, I’ve chosen to go with “freedom” and Camus. I’ve chosen to become aware of contentment, to make choices that give more meaning to my life along with increased contentment, and to make more of those choices during times of distress (such as after the death of a belovèd pet or a personal injury). I think I’ll continue to do that.
It feels so much better than thinking of Free Will and choice as burdens.
That way, when I die, I won’t have any regrets (at least, I hope not). Like Edith Piaf, I’d rather be singing “Non, je ne regrette rien” (No, I regret nothing) on my deathbed.
Note: though marketed for different kinds of pain on Amazon, these are all the identical product, and The Chi Institute (formerly, Sound Vitality) will be sending your device. This is the I-9 sound wave device that I use for the pain of migraine and neuropathic facial pain (formerly called "atypical trigeminal neuralgia")
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