When I was a teenager, I discovered the French-Algerian philosopher and writer Albert Camus and his famous novels The Plague and The Stranger. Both are considered works of existentialism, the philosophical idea that we humans define our own meaning and purpose in life with freedom and choice and that we try our best to make rational decisions in spite of our residence within an irrational universe [rough definition adapted from PhilosophyBasics.com, naturally]. Basically, it means that our mere existence on this planet doesn’t ensure a feeling of purpose or meaning in the world; to an existentialist, life may feel essentially meaning-less and the onus is on humans to create meaning in their own lives. Depending on how you view that half-glass of water, you’ll either see this a curse or a challenge. As a young woman who had moved twice in high school and was now familiar with pulling up roots and leaving friends, Camus’ stark stories of humanity struck me at the time as particularly poignant and true, and you can imagine which side of the coin I landed on:
What’s it all for? Why are we here?
Now, as I move through this new phase of my life as a mother to kids who no longer need/love me in the same ways that they did when they were tiny and more helpless (ps: when do they move from the “helpless” to the “help-ful” phase?), this refrain plays on my mind often. What is it all for? Why did I just spend some of the best, most creative and fruitful years of my life giving my absolute all to these beings who are now detaching rapidly and hurtling away from me? What now? What do I do? Who am I?
What’s it all for?
I’ve been looking for answers, that’s for sure. And sure as heck, I found one last week as I worked my usual volunteer shift at the high school library.
A copy of The Plague had been marked up, the librarian told us. “Here, take a look,” she said, opening to the front pages. The book moved from one pair of hands to the next, the other two volunteers tsk-tsking. When it landed in mine, I quickly scanned the neatly penciled remarks, written in a bold script:
When I walk down the street, my wang swings back and forth.
And then, almost faintly below, in another person’s handwriting:
No one cares.
All of my hand-wringing, all of my “what’s it all for?”s and “why am I here?”s and “what’s my purpose?”s… all of it distilled down into this tiny back and forth of ego-projection, followed by the essential truth: the good, the bad, the messy and the glorious…*all* of it exists simply for ourselves, no one else.