I’ve been home from Egypt for about one and a half weeks. I’ve been busy setting
seeing friends and family, prodded with requests for stories. “What were the pyramids like?” they ask. Or, “Did you see the Sphinx?”
I’ve also been reading The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus and organizing loans and finances to prepare for my final year at college. Soon, I’ll be moving into campus housing, seeing old friends, and attending classes as if nothing happened.
But the transition to “reality” has been hard.
My third night home, my dad and I went out for a hot fudge sunday at a place nearby–an irregular tradition for past few years. As I ate my ice cream, the other customers walked up, laughing and buying their cones.
To me, they felt unreal. I couldn’t take my mind from the students I had taught in Egypt. Some had lost friends and family to religious violence. All had endured the throes of violent political change the past year. For some of them, justice was a truth worth dying for. Then, my thoughts turned to Libya and Syria, torn by their own violence, like the hundreds killed in the recent attack at Tremseh.
It hurt to know that a month and a half ago, I was just an oblivious American eating ice cream, too.
Since I’ve been home I’ve felt a weight, or a rocky wedge lodged in my gut, twisting. I’m tired, lost,and apathetic, emotions on the borderlands of depression: a hazy boundary between sadness and numb darkness that I’ve crossed many times in the past, getting lost amid that dismal country for months.
Perhaps it’s guilt from being an oblivious American caught up in my own youth a brief time ago. I certainly feel that. But I think it’s something else. In one of his essays Camus writes,
Once you had the chance to love intensely, your life is spent in search of the same truth and ardor. To give up beauty and the sensual happiness that comes with it and devote one’s life exclusively to unhappiness requires a nobility I lack.
Last year, I went through my first love and breakup. I had other brief relationships before, but I didn’t know love until then. I haven’t fully recovered since it fell away. I don’t mind the lost romance, and I’ve come to accept the lost friendship, but since then, I struggle to chase an ever-distant high.
The love I felt last year was bigger than that single relationship: it was a new perspective on life. For the first time, I had someone to truly share the weight of living with. I often said that I was a broken glass statue and when she held me, the cracks faded and I felt whole.
Since then, I’ve had to hold myself together, fight my own inner battles, and be strong for other people. I’ve come to learn that there are times when no one can help you, and the world doesn’t care how you feel, as long as you get the job done. If you can’t, it doesn’t want you. It’s indifferent to inner struggles.
But an indifferent world doesn’t mean people have to be indifferent to one another. Indeed, I feel the opposite: if we are alone in an indifferent universe, then justice, freedom, and love are even more important. Without them, we truly become cogs in cold clock and lose our compassion.
After the breakup, I went to soup kitchens, made more trips to prison to talk with alcoholics, tutored at-risk students from broken homes, etc. I helped friends in hard times and helped my aging parents.
Perhaps I was chasing a high–a sense of accomplishment and praise from my work–but more often, a sense of duty drew me to service. Thus, I’ve found some healing, although I still feel broken.
Coming home from Egypt, I feel another link to the people I met and the places notched around North Africa and the Middle East, and whatever help I was able to give over there makes me happy. In the meantime, I realize I cannot “solve” anything based across the Atlantic, but I refuse to fall into indifference.
I pinned a quote from Camus in my room, from his essay “The Almond Trees.” I consider it a rallying cry of sorts:
We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks men take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.