Misery Loves Company. And Encouragement.

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For obvious reasons, I recently reread Albert Camus’ The Plague for the first time since junior high or high school. I have no intentions of wasting my time writing a review of anything written by Camus, who needs neither my praise nor my criticism, but while I expected it to be pertinent to us and our travails, I was still unprepared for just how pertinent so much of a novel published in 1947 might be, so I have decided to share some quotes that might resonate with you, too.

“When a war breaks out, people say: ‘It’s too stupid; it can’t last long.’ But though a war may well be ‘too stupid,’ that doesn’t prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.”

After the city has gone into self-quarantine and sealed itself off from the rest of the world, Camus writes:

“One of the most striking consequences of closing the gates was, in fact, this deprivation befalling people who were completely unprepared for it. Mothers and children, husbands and wives, who had a few days previously taken it for granted that their parting would be a short one, who kissed one another good-by on the platform and exchanged a few trivial remarks, sure as they were of seeing one another again after a few days or, at most, a few weeks, duped by our blind human faith in the near future and little if at all diverted from their normal interest by this leave-taking—all these people found themselves, without the least warning, hopelessly cut off, prevented from seeing one another again, or even communicating with one another.”

“Under other circumstances our townsfolk would probably have found an outlet in increased activity, a more sociable life. But the plague forced inactivity on them, limiting their movements to the same dull round inside the town, and throwing them, day after day, on the illusive solace of their memories. For in their aimless walks they kept on coming back to the same streets and usually, owing to the smallness of the town, these were streets in which, in happier days, they had walked with those who now were absent.”

“So they went on strolling about the town as usual and sitting at the tables on café terraces. Generally speaking, they did not lack courage, bandied more jokes than lamentations, and made a show of accepting cheerfully unpleasantnesses that obviously could be only passing. In short, they kept up appearances.”

“The truth is that nothing is less sensational than pestilence, and by reason of their very duration great misfortunes are monotonous. In the memories of those who lived through them, the grim days of the plague do not stand out like vivid flames, ravenous and inextinguishable, beaconing a troubled sky, but rather like a slow, deliberate progress of some monstrous thing crushing out all in its path.”

“Meanwhile the authorities had another cause for anxiety in the difficulty of maintaining the food supply. Profiteers were taking a hand and purveying at enormous prices essential foodstuffs not available in the shops. The result was that poor families were in great straits, while the rich went short of practically nothing. Thus, whereas the plague by its impartial ministrations should have promoted equality among our townsfolk, it now had the opposite effect and, thanks to the habitual conflict of cupidities, exacerbated the sense of injustice rankling in men’s hearts. They were assured, of course, of the inerrable equality of death, but nobody wanted that kind of equality.”

And after the plague has finally subsided and the town is celebrating with festivals and fireworks:

“And it was in the midst of shouts rolling against the terrace wall in massive waves that waxed in volume and duration, while cataracts of colored fire fell thicker through the darkness, that Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear some witness in favor of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.”

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3 thoughts on “Misery Loves Company. And Encouragement.”

  1. Many times throughout the last 2 months I have thought of a previous client from years ago. My work as a trauma therapist brings me lots of stories; this gentleman was from the former Yugoslavia. He described to me the day that the war reached his city: he and his wife had gotten up and gone to work that morning as usual, having no way to know they would never see each other again. Battle lines were drawn through the city between their workplaces, and they were destined for opposite sides until she ultimately died of an illness several months later, an illness for which she could not get appropriate medical care due to the war. Although the circumstances are not the same, of course, I have been reminded of this as I hear people talking about the difficulty of open with not knowing when they will see their extended families again.

    I was listening to an interview with an immunologist this morning, and she stated that she did not expect a vaccine for covid-19 for another decade. The sounded incredible to the interviewer. Her response was, “We’ve been working on a vaccine for MRSA for over a decade and we still don’t have one.” That was sobering to me. Hopefully our circumstances will eventually acclimate to a new normal sooner than later, with us few casualties as possible, including global economy.

    Thank you for sharing. Perhaps I can find Camus’ book in an online library.

  2. A wonderful presentation of this towering book by this towering author. Here are two favorite favorite quotes, always relevant and certainly now.

    “What’s natural is the microbe. All the rest — health, integrity, purity (if you like) — is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter. The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention.”

    “I’ve seen enough people who die for an idea. I don’t believe in heroism; I know it’s easy and I’ve learnt it can be murderous. What interests me is living and dying for what one loves.”

    “Faith hope and love. The greatest of these is love.”

    Corinthians 1:13

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