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|What you say, Exen, reminded me of the meeting between Meursault, who was sentenced to death, and awaiting the execution, and the chaplain who came to visit him, at the end of Camus's "The Stranger". I know it is very long, but it is the best part of the novel, and I like to remind you of it:
|My thoughts had reached this point when the chaplain walked in, unannounced. I couldnÃ¢Â€Â™t help giving a start on seeing him. He noticed this evidently, as he promptly told me not to be alarmed. I reminded him that usually his visits were at another hour, and for a pretty grim occasion. This, he replied, was just a friendly visit; it had no concern with my appeal, about which he knew nothing. Then he sat down on my bed, asking me to sit beside him. I refusedÃ¢Â€Â”not because I had anything against him; he seemed a mild, amiable man.
He remained quite still at first, his arms resting on his knees, his eyes fixed on his hands. They were slender but sinewy hands, which made me think of two nimble little animals. Then he gently rubbed them together. He stayed so long in the same position that for a while I almost forgot he was there.
All of a sudden he jerked his head up and looked me in the eyes.
Ã¢Â€ÂœWhy,Ã¢Â€Â he asked, Ã¢Â€ÂœdonÃ¢Â€Â™t you let me come to see you?Ã¢Â€Â
I explained that I didnÃ¢Â€Â™t believe in God.
Ã¢Â€ÂœAre you really so sure of that?Ã¢Â€Â
I said I saw no point in troubling my head about the matter; whether I believed or didnÃ¢Â€Â™t was, to my mind, a question of so little importance.
He then leaned back against the wall, laying his hands flat on his thighs. Almost without seeming to address me, he remarked that heÃ¢Â€Â™d often noticed one fancies one is quite sure about something, when in point of fact one isnÃ¢Â€Â™t. When I said nothing, he looked at me again, and asked:
Ã¢Â€ÂœDonÃ¢Â€Â™t you agree?Ã¢Â€Â
I said that seemed quite possible. But, though I mightnÃ¢Â€Â™t be so sure about what interested me, I was absolutely sure about what didnÃ¢Â€Â™t interest me. And the question he had raised didnÃ¢Â€Â™t interest me at all.
He looked away and, without altering his posture, asked if it was because I felt utterly desperate that I spoke like this. I explained that it wasnÃ¢Â€Â™t despair I felt, but fearÃ¢Â€Â”which was natural enough.
Ã¢Â€ÂœIn that case,Ã¢Â€Â he said firmly, Ã¢Â€ÂœGod can help you. All the men IÃ¢Â€Â™ve seen in your position turned to Him in their time of trouble.Ã¢Â€Â
Obviously, I replied, they were at liberty to do so, if they felt like it. I, however, didnÃ¢Â€Â™t want to be helped, and I hadnÃ¢Â€Â™t time to work up interest for something that didnÃ¢Â€Â™t interest me.
He fluttered his hands fretfully; then, sitting up, smoothed out his cassock. When this was done he began talking again, addressing me as Ã¢Â€Âœmy friend.Ã¢Â€Â It wasnÃ¢Â€Â™t because IÃ¢Â€Â™d been condemned to death, he said, that he spoke to me in this way. In his opinion every man on the earth was under sentence of death.
There, I interrupted him; that wasnÃ¢Â€Â™t the same thing, I pointed out, and, whatÃ¢Â€Â™s more, could be no consolation.
He nodded. Ã¢Â€ÂœMaybe. Still, if you donÃ¢Â€Â™t die soon, youÃ¢Â€Â™ll die one day. And then the same question will arise. How will you face that terrible, final hour?Ã¢Â€Â
I replied that IÃ¢Â€Â™d face it exactly as I was facing it now.
Thereat he stood up, and looked me straight in the eyes. It was a trick I knew well. I used to amuse myself trying it on Emmanuel and CÃƒÂ©leste, and nine times out of ten theyÃ¢Â€Â™d look away uncomfortably. I could see the chaplain was an old hand at it, as his gaze never faltered. And his voice was quite steady when he said: Ã¢Â€ÂœHave you no hope at all? Do you really think that when you die you die outright, and nothing remains?Ã¢Â€Â
I said: Ã¢Â€ÂœYes.Ã¢Â€Â
He dropped his eyes and sat down again. He was truly sorry for me, he said. It must make life unbearable for a man, to think as I did.
The priest was beginning to bore me, and, resting a shoulder on the wall, just beneath the little skylight, I looked away. Though I didnÃ¢Â€Â™t trouble much to follow what he said, I gathered he was questioning me again. Presently his tone became agitated, urgent, and, as I realized that he was genuinely distressed, I began to pay more attention.
He said he felt convinced my appeal would succeed, but I was saddled with a load of guilt, of which I must get rid. In his view manÃ¢Â€Â™s justice was a vain thing; only GodÃ¢Â€Â™s justice mattered. I pointed out that the former had condemned me. Yes, he agreed, but it hadnÃ¢Â€Â™t absolved me from my sin. I told him that I wasnÃ¢Â€Â™t conscious of any Ã¢Â€ÂœsinÃ¢Â€Â; all I knew was that IÃ¢Â€Â™d been guilty of a criminal offense. Well, I was paying the penalty of that offense, and no one had the right to expect anything more of me.
Just then he got up again, and it struck me that if he wanted to move in this tiny cell, almost the only choice lay between standing up and sitting down. I was staring at the floor. He took a single step toward me, and halted, as if he didnÃ¢Â€Â™t dare to come nearer. Then he looked up through the bars at the sky.
Ã¢Â€ÂœYouÃ¢Â€Â™re mistaken, my son,Ã¢Â€Â he said gravely. Ã¢Â€ÂœThereÃ¢Â€Â™s more that might be required of you. And perhaps it will be required of you.Ã¢Â€Â
Ã¢Â€ÂœWhat do you mean?Ã¢Â€Â
Ã¢Â€ÂœYou might be asked to see ...Ã¢Â€Â
Ã¢Â€ÂœTo see what?Ã¢Â€Â
Slowly the priest gazed round my cell, and I was struck by the sadness of his voice when he replied:
Ã¢Â€ÂœThese stone walls, I know it only too well, are steeped in human suffering. IÃ¢Â€Â™ve never been able to look at them without a shudder. And yetÃ¢Â€Â”believe me, I am speaking from the depths of my heartÃ¢Â€Â”I know that even the wretchedest amongst you have sometimes seen, taking form against that grayness, a divine face. ItÃ¢Â€Â™s that face you are asked to see.Ã¢Â€Â
This roused me a little. I informed him that IÃ¢Â€Â™d been staring at those walls for months; there was nobody, nothing in the world, I knew better than I knew them. And once upon a time, perhaps, I used to try to see a face. But it was a sun-gold face, lit up with desireÃ¢Â€Â”MarieÃ¢Â€Â™s face. I had no luck; IÃ¢Â€Â™d never seen it, and now IÃ¢Â€Â™d given up trying. Indeed, IÃ¢Â€Â™d never seen anything Ã¢Â€Âœtaking form,Ã¢Â€Â as he called it, against those gray walls.
The chaplain gazed at me with a sort of sadness. I now had my back to the wall and light was flowing over my forehead. He muttered some words I didnÃ¢Â€Â™t catch; then abruptly asked if he might kiss me. I said, Ã¢Â€ÂœNo.Ã¢Â€Â Then he turned, came up to the wall, and slowly drew his hand along it.
Ã¢Â€ÂœDo you really love these earthly things so very much?Ã¢Â€Â he asked in a low voice.
I made no reply.
For quite a while he kept his eyes averted. His presence was getting more and more irksome, and I was on the point of telling him to go, and leave me in peace, when all of a sudden he swung round on me, and burst out passionately:
Ã¢Â€ÂœNo! No! I refuse to believe it. IÃ¢Â€Â™m sure youÃ¢Â€Â™ve often wished there was an afterlife.Ã¢Â€Â
Of course I had, I told him. Everybody has that wish at times. But that had no more importance than wishing to be rich, or to swim very fast, or to have a better-shaped mouth. It was in the same order of things. I was going on in the same vein, when he cut in with a question. How did I picture the life after the grave?
I fairly bawled out at him: Ã¢Â€ÂœA life in which I can remember this life on earth. ThatÃ¢Â€Â™s all I want of it.Ã¢Â€Â And in the same breath I told him IÃ¢Â€Â™d had enough of his company.
But, apparently, he had more to say on the subject of God. I went close up to him and made a last attempt to explain that IÃ¢Â€Â™d very little time left, and I wasnÃ¢Â€Â™t going to waste it on God.
Then he tried to change the subject by asking me why I hadnÃ¢Â€Â™t once addressed him as Ã¢Â€ÂœFather,Ã¢Â€Â seeing that he was a priest. That irritated me still more, and I told him he wasnÃ¢Â€Â™t my father; quite the contrary, he was on the othersÃ¢Â€Â™ side.
Ã¢Â€ÂœNo, no, my son,Ã¢Â€Â he said, laying his hand on my shoulder. Ã¢Â€ÂœIÃ¢Â€Â™m on your side, though you donÃ¢Â€Â™t realize itÃ¢Â€Â”because your heart is hardened. But I shall pray for you.Ã¢Â€Â
Then, I donÃ¢Â€Â™t know how it was, but something seemed to break inside me, and I started yelling at the top of my voice. I hurled insults at him, I told him not to waste his rotten prayers on me; it was better to burn than to disappear. IÃ¢Â€Â™d taken him by the neckband of his cassock, and, in a sort of ecstasy of joy and rage, I poured out on him all the thoughts that had been simmering in my brain. He seemed so c----ure, you see. And yet none of his certainties was worth one strand of a womanÃ¢Â€Â™s hair. Living as he did, like a corpse, he couldnÃ¢Â€Â™t even be sure of being alive. It might look as if my hands were empty. Actually, I was sure of myself, sure about everything, far surer than he; sure of my present life and of the death that was coming. That, no doubt, was all I had; but at least that certainty was something I could get my teeth intoÃ¢Â€Â”just as it had got its teeth into me. IÃ¢Â€Â™d been right, I was still right, I was always right. IÃ¢Â€Â™d passed my life in a certain way, and I might have passed it in a different way, if IÃ¢Â€Â™d felt like it. IÃ¢Â€Â™d acted thus, and I hadnÃ¢Â€Â™t acted otherwise; I hadnÃ¢Â€Â™t done x, whereas I had done y or z. And what did that mean? That, all the time, IÃ¢Â€Â™d been waiting for this present moment, for that dawn, tomorrowÃ¢Â€Â™s or another dayÃ¢Â€Â™s, which was to justify me. Nothing, nothing had the least importance and I knew quite well why. He, too, knew why. From the dark horizon of my future a sort of slow, persistent breeze had been blowing toward me, all my life long, from the years that were to come. And on its way that breeze had leveled out all the ideas that people tried to foist on me in the equally unreal years I then was living through. What difference could they make to me, the deaths of others, or a motherÃ¢Â€Â™s love, or his God; or the way a man decides to live, the fate he thinks he chooses, since one and the same fate was bound to Ã¢Â€ÂœchooseÃ¢Â€Â not only me but thousands of millions of privileged people who, like him, called themselves my brothers. Surely, surely he must see that? Every man alive was privileged; there was only one class of men, the privileged class. All alike would be condemned to die one day; his turn, too, would come like the othersÃ¢Â€Â™. And what difference could it make if, after being charged with murder, he were executed because he didnÃ¢Â€Â™t weep at his motherÃ¢Â€Â™s funeral, since it all came to the same thing in the end? The same thing for SalamanoÃ¢Â€Â™s wife and for SalamanoÃ¢Â€Â™s dog. That little robot woman was as Ã¢Â€ÂœguiltyÃ¢Â€Â as the girl from Paris who had married Masson, or as Marie, who wanted me to marry her. What did it matter if Raymond was as much my pal as CÃƒÂ©leste, who was a far worthier man? What did it matter if at this very moment Marie was kissing a new boy friend? As a condemned man himself, couldnÃ¢Â€Â™t he grasp what I meant by that dark wind blowing from my future? ...
"See, this is why I can't get behind God. If He doesn't exist, fine. Bad crap happens to good people. That's how it is. No rhyme or reason, just random horrible, evil. I get it. Okay? I can roll with that. But if He is out there, what's wrong with Him? Where the hell is He while all these decent people are getting torn to shreds? How does He live with Himself? You know, why doesn't He help?"