'Stronger than our condition'
by Nancy J. Salzer
I came across Resistance, Rebellion, and Death as a college student in 1969, after several years of life traumas. I had grown up with a disability, and then at age fifteen experienced the death of my father, the loss of sight in one of my eyes, and the endangering of the other eye's sight. I felt that the ground had fallen from beneath me. Then, I was shocked in a very personal way by the assassinations of heroes like John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
Why had all these things happened? What would come next? How could I cope? I was raised with little religious training, and what I knew of traditional religion did not give me any answers. By this time, I had found Unitarian Universalism and loved its tradition of freedom for rational thought in religion. Yet I was still seeking a non-theistic source for “the courage to be.”
In Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, amid Camus's grappling with the meaning of his experiences in the French Resistance against the Nazi occupation, I found a core of wisdom that still sustains me. Camus wrote that we must “first posit absurdity.” Yes, I thought, my experiences were truly absurd. Therefore, there was no point in asking why they had happened. He also said, however, that “not everything is summed up in negation and absurdity.” Our “greatness” as human beings lay in our decision to be “stronger than our condition.” I could create meaning by the way that I lived my life. The very hardness of Camus's approach, a “lucid” recognition that there are no answers, was a liberation and a source of strength.
Has a book changed your life? Religious liberals often think of every section of the bookstore as the religion section. Many regard the Bible as only the opening chapter of the scriptural canon. What book has earned a place in your personal canon? Send no more than 300 words describing any book, ancient or modern, that is “a source of the living tradition” of your faith to “Bookshelf,” UU World, 25 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02108. Please include a daytime phone number and your congregational affiliation. Submissions will be considered for a periodic new column.