Some advice from my favorite Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, that I ran across today:
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
By eighth grade, most guys find girls. I found Stoicism. Girls came later.
In eighth, I read my first philosophy book–a brisk, colorful introduction called Get a Grip on Philosophy by Neil Turnbull. The recycled-paper pages reminded me of paper bags, and its binding soon faded from many rereadings on bus rides home.
In the section about Hellenistic philosophy–the period following Aristotle–Turnbull wrote, “the Stoics didn’t lose their sense of wonder” and described a Stoic as “a person who advocates an ethic of resilience in the face of adversity; a believer in cosmopolitan politics.”
There were a few paragraphs , not much else. Still, Stoicism made an impression. It’s focus on reason, morality, and tranquility had roots in my personality, and the idea of being a cosmopolitan, “a citizen of the cosmos,” sounded fascinating.
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.