The Absurdity Of A Pandemic

“But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, that’s all.”
Albert Camus, The Plague

Albert Camus wrote a great book called, The Plague. He narrates a story about a plague that hits the city of Oran, but mostly he describes the reactions of its citizens and, subtly, he portrays his philosophical standings on such an event, which can be summarized with this quote from the book: 

“I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.”
Albert Camus

The absurd 

You see, Camus was an atheist. He did not believe in redemption or in god coming to save us. He coined the idea of the absurd. Again, I’ll quote him. 

The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” “A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.” “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” — Albert Camus

As if there were no answers from the world, as if there was no meaning. He did not believe that meaning was found in the bible or any other book. He believe that meaning could not be found anywhere, and this notion of the reality of things is what he called the absurd. Like yelling why to the sky, when you know no answer is coming. 

So if meaning couldn’t be found anywhere, we have to create it for ourselves. 

The Plague

The plague begins to infect the entire population in Oran. The measures taken by the government are exactly the same as the ones taken by our governments right now. Quarantine, sending everyone home and so on. The city of Oran is the only one hit by the plague and therefore quarantined. Everyone is forbidden to see their families from outside the city and vice versa. In the beginning stages of the plague, they laugh a lot, cracking jokes about everything seems to be the way we humans cope with anything, doesn’t it? It reminds me of all the memes circulating around on Instagram (I have to admit, some of them are really funny). The story describes every, or better said, most situations humans find themselves in when going through isolation, chaotic healthcare system and living under the fear of death. 

Could you imagine you’d be living something like this? Fearful of the possibility of yourself dying or your parents dying. This is not a light thought. 

The citizens of Oran, while being quarantined and under the fear of the disease, begin to realize the prisons they were living in. The prisons of habit and taking things for granted. Not realizing that things do end, maybe sooner than later. But what to do about this? What to do about the absurdity of our situation? And for this:

“Well, personally, I’ve seen enough of people who die for an idea. I don’t believe in heroism; I know it’s easy and I’ve learned that it can be murderous. What interests me is living and dying for what one loves.”

― Albert Camus, The Plague


For Camus, meaning is created by ourselves. 

In Oran, some citizens were crushed by the fear of death and the absurd situation they found themselves in, crushed by the realization of their meaningless prisons, build entirely by themselves in the form of habit and negation of life, like sleepwalkers. Crushed by fear and a meaningless universe. 

But there were others that decided that they might as well go out to help, risking the possibility of getting sick themselves. But that didn’t matter, for they were no prisoners anymore, no more the prisoners of the crushing effects of fear and the meaningless habits they had fallen into. It was the plague that liberated them. They decided to act on what they found important, like being strong and fearless against the possibility of death, and in doing so, they gave meaning to their existence. 

I find it absurd to find myself in a situation like the one we are currently living, but we are. Life changed in a couple of months, and it seems to be changing now in matter of days. The presidency of Trump, my president Andres Manuel, and all the others, find themselves in their Churchill moments. 

Which makes me wonder about my tiny prison. It makes me wonder about my petty goals and it makes me wonder about the things that I find important in life. 

One thing I do know is that I don’t want to find myself in the ranks of the crushed by the absurd and fear. I’m not saying that I’m going to go out and try to help in a hospital, I don’t think I could help, in the medical sense. 

But I can help in other ways, and that is by making the decision to act in the things that I find meaningful, with courage and fearlessness. Like sharing this with you, and maybe lighting up a tiny spark that will make you think, and act on what you find meaningful. 

“And he knew, also, what the old man was thinking as his tears flowed, and he, Rieux, thought it too: that a loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of one’s work, and of devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.”
Albert Camus, The Plague

This whole thing is an exercise of Memento Mori. We all are going to die, maybe sooner than later. But don’t let yourself be crushed by the fear of death, be elevated by it. Death reminds us that this one, dear life, as we know it as human beings, it’s as weird and impossible to happen as can get. 

 Think about that and act accordingly. 

I’m happy to be sharing this world with you. 

Oh, and I want to add as well, another quote from Camus, that’s just right for the moment. 

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.”
Albert Camus

Thanks for reading, 

Ricardo Guaderrama 

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