Morning Musings: Significance in Our Stumbles
I've become quite the bookworm since taking on the daily commute from the suburbs of New Jersey to the heart of Manhattan, but I cannot say that this has always been my intention. The added time that I spend sitting on a bus or sequestered to what little space I can carve out on the subway train has not allowed a budding passion to blossom, it's provided ample soil for a new interest to take root.
At first the habit spawned out of necessity―seeking my Master's, I needed the additional time to review assignments and fulfill reading requirements. When this task was completed, the rigors of the routine duly instilled, I thought it best to simply shift my focus, rather than seek a new course altogether. And so, I continued reading, this time for fun.
Among those titles that I started toting from door to door were a few selections from my adolescence. In addition to being a wallflower, I was also somewhat of a slacker, particularly when it came to long reading assignments. Preferring to spend my time devoted to my own interests and more creative pursuits, my initial visits to the worlds of Jay Gatsby and Holden Caufield were half-hearted, at best.
That's why my return to their narratives has felt more like a reunion than an escape. Their familiarity helped me to appreciate what I had so stubbornly overlooked earlier in my youth, welcoming me back without pause or gripe. And among these stories from my past there has been one that I've been somewhat eagerly anticipating to visit again. Just this past week I completed my return to Oran, the city at the heart of Albert Camus' "The Plague".
A story of pestilence, resilience, and the search for meaning behind it all, "The Plague" encapsulates hard-won insights on human nature, as grasped by Camus during his time as a member of the French resistance under German occupation in World War II. His is an agnostic view of life, doubtful of a gilded God but resolute in the divine message of doing good. Or, for Camus, to simply do as little harm as possible.
Even though I initially wandered through the scenes he painted in somewhat of a disenchanted haze, something buried in these lines stuck with me. I have always sensed something endearing in Camus' writing. Beneath this doubt, there is hope―such is clearly visible in his optimistic view of human nature and profound recognition of the utility in suffering. Even so, aspects of Camus' outlook seem to be tinted by a hint of playful cynicism. The combination draws you in and provides ample food for thought.
That is why, upon completing my read, I found myself attached to my keyboard, typing away as the thoughts swirling in the wake of "The Plague" spilled onto the screen before me. They were musings on life, what is fated to us, the choices we bring to bear, and the nature of a power that potentially guides it all.
As a brief disclaimer: Raised as a Roman Catholic, my view of this higher power has always manifested itself as the God of Abraham, who delivered himself to us in the form of His Son, and who plays the role of mentor, architect, and creator in the epic narrative of John Milton. This is my lens. It is the filter through which my view takes form in this piece. Regardless of your faith, believer or non, I hope that you will look past my interpretation to the message at its heart and reflect simply on the nature of these musings as they best relate to your own perspective.
In a moment of reflection, my mind dwelt upon the nature of this life: is it fated for us or truly in our control? If answering honestly, I suppose that mine would be a moderate view; I land somewhere in the middle. That is to say that I believe that our lives are mapped according to an overall arch. Our stories are given a definitive start and destined for an end (more of a ballpark than a precise pinpoint). What is left to us are the moments that fill the space in between. And the nature of our end, the implied surety in some higher plan, should not diminish in any way the importance of the choices afforded to us therein. It is through our choices, right or wrong, that both this endpoint and the nature of our relationship with its author takes shape.
For what would life be to its architect if our paces were so strictly prescribed? Our motions would have no deeper spirit to them than the humble winding of gears pacing through a clock. Instead, I've always sensed a deeper significance in our fumbles, the missteps that we accumulate in searching for the lot granted to us. It is in these moments that I have truly gotten to know God and, more importantly, to get a sense of Him. Through these moments, if I had to select one word to describe this picture of God that I have developed, it would have to be "humor".
I've seen God clearest in the ironies of life, my greatest defeats and unexpected triumphs. That is not to say that He is a sadist, deriving delight purely from watching our falls and struggles. No, instead, I've always equated these moments and the sense I draw from them to guardians watching a child struggle at some task. I've seen this same spirit reflected in the faces of parents, relations, and other loving onlookers, watching as tiny fists hammer away at some object with little avail and worried eyes are turned back upon them as frustration wells in the wake of futility. In these moments, a smile is almost instinctual. It rises from the touch of warmth that comes with appreciation, and the knowledge that this little being is in your charge.
It is a mix of joy and wonderment, knowing that their failure has in no way diminished the earnestness of their deed or their determination to see it through. Even when tears pool in their eyes and they waive their balled fists in flustered resignation, the smile remains. Wrapped in a reassuring embrace, we transmit its message to our kin. And it is a similar warmth that I draw from God in these moments, when his divine humor is most evident. It rises from amusement in knowing that we do not yet see the answer lying directly in front of us, and delight in knowing that, in time, we will.
The stories we share here at MSL are dedicated to this journey of discovery, to the importance of trial and error. We reflect on our experiences, failure and triumph alike, to get a better sense of the task ahead of us. Through these stories, we develop not only a sense of ourselves, but the greater narrative that connects us all.