Still(a)Life#28: The Plague

When I first started my practice in Johannesburg, I used to make sure that I was always wearing a good pair of shoes. I was young and needed to be taken seriously. Clients spend an inordinate amount of time staring at your feet. Especially when you ask the more difficult questions. The other day I asked a client a difficult question, she simply turned the lid of her laptop up to the ceiling as she tried to answer it. There are some interesting advantages to online therapy.

Today I didn’t wear any shoes. I felt at first as I imagine a Muslim woman might feel without her hijab. But one or two sessions in and it felt comfortable: honest. There’s a book at my feet. I don’t get much chance to read it but I keep it close for a sense of security; that someone might just know a way forward for us. In 1941, the French Algerian, Albert Camus, started writing a book about a virus transmitted from animals to humans. He portrays how the society in the book doesn’t really question what it means to be alive until their lives come into a clear and present danger. For Camus, the real plague is not the virus but the fact that we are perpetually vulnerable to the absurdity of life. There is no hidden meaning or purpose to the plague, human suffering has no underlying “purpose” and death is a reminder of how our lives can be rendered suddenly meaningless. This is the human condition.

Camus’ real concern is for how humanity engages with this condition. For instance, our tendency to create an “us” and a “them” – to think of ourselves as uniquely immune to human struggles. Throughout History, pandemics, have proven that we are ultimately all vulnerable to the same fate. Camus, however, seems to find little value in panic. For him, panic is a response to a transient condition that we could potentially solve. Rather, if the condition we need to treat is the very circumstance of being human, then we need to find ways of “living”. Camus proposes that the only way to fight the plague would be through “decency” to one another. And the only way to deal with the human condition would be to live as fully and sensuously as possible. To live life to the fullest is to make life worth enduring.

And so, today, I enjoyed the feeling under my feet, the sun casting shadows on the wall, Josh laughing outside as he played with the dogs. I wondered what he meant by living with decency…Perhaps it’s simply to love?

“They knew now that if there is one thing one can always yearn for, and sometimes attain, it is human love.”
― Albert Camus, The Plague

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