“There is no love of life without despair of life.”― Albert Camus
He was an active leader in the French Resistance in World War II when Albert Camus wrote those words. The world had found itself in a time of uncertainly and great despair. Yet Camus discovered a place for the love of life even in those most globally desperate times.
And here we are again in the foggy grey atmosphere of despair, cast upon us by the vast unknown of future consequences of this pandemic we are living with. With the despair naturally comes fear and distrust and blame—each very unhealthy and unproductive states of mind.
Perhaps we can find a way to alter our thinking. Yes, perhaps it is in the knowing of despair of life that we might slide into the love of life. But the question is, “How do we make that transition from despair to love?”
A Couple Ideas
The first has to do with interplay of opposites: The Tao Te Ching says that before we can know any one thing, we must also know well its opposite. I think of yin and yang, long and short, large and small—all require some comprehension of its opposite to understand the concept. Before we accurately grasp “good” we must also understand something of “evil.”
When you think about it, few things have comprehensible meaning without the paradoxical familiarity with its opposite. “Long,” for instance, would make little sense without its opposite: short. Maybe despair of life is the “mirror opposite” of love of life. Maybe despair grounds us in a longing for hope, hope in some particular option, like the love of life. All of which connotes a spirit of gratitude for what we really do have.
Love of life finds it roots in gratitude and appreciation for that which we do have (or possess)—things that after some rational consideration cannot be erased by despair.
And so in this time of sequestration it will be even easier to slip into that nasty state of despair, unless… we find love and gratitude for our loved ones, for books, for our crazed-out kids, and some time to ponder the works of God in times of “going through the valley of the shadow.”
Next, Thomas Merton writes that, left to its own, despair is an “abyss with out a bottom.”
“To wage war against despair unceasingly…” is his remedy. Waging such a war will require courage, contemplation, prayer, and making self-confident conscious choices. To choose the love of life over despair of life may feel like an arduous task, but it most certainly doable. And surely more desirable.
Viktor Frankl is well-known for pronouncing that, in dire conditions, the only thing that cannot be taken away is our choice of how we respond. Despair of life or love of life? We still have plenty of reason for the latter.
The Mightier Sister of Despair
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