Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The remains of a man

Albert Camus spent the last years of his life in Lourmarin, a small village of only 1,150 people. It was here Camus wrote the draft of The First Man. He wouldn’t live to see its publication, as he died in a car crash in January 1960. His remains are buried in Lourmarin.

And so, this small village of Lourmarin has come to depend on tourists, many who come to visit Camus’ tomb and the place he called home for the last years of his life.

Well, now it seems President Sarkozy of France wants to have the remains moved from the small simple grave of the village to the grand Pantheon in Paris, home to the remains of many of France’s other great intellectuals. This has created a min-furor in France and all kinds of angst and debate.

One of us visited this cemetery in Paris two years ago. Oddly, as we think about it, we have often found ourselves visiting famous cemeteries in our travels in recent years in places such as Charleston, SC and San Juan, Puerto Rico… Even while traveling in France in Normandy, we stopped by a very old cemetery in a medieval town.

Cemeteries make us feel very absurd. One can’t help but read the inscriptions of people who have been dead long ago and wonder… What worried them when they were living? What made them sad or angry? Did they feel too fat or too short? Did they wish they were smarter or stronger? We wonder about all the little daily things that happen in a life, all the little episodes that seem so important at the time, and yet…. Here these people lie.

All those concerns, all those worries, ambitions – fulfilled or otherwise – seem plainly meaningless now. We wonder how many people would live their life differently if they really embraced this reality. If the dead could come back and speak, what wisdom would they impart on the living?

We can only guess. Our guess is they would laugh at our worries. Our guess is they would tell us to live life and enjoy it while it lasts. Our guess is they would tell us to stop bickering over where a dead man’s remains lie.

Camus himself, we gather, would enjoy a laugh over the absurdity of it all. Then he might wander over to the CafĂ© de l’Ormeau’s wooden bar, have a cigarette, a glass of the local wine and bask in the warm sun.

1 comment:

  1. I think the verse (7,2) in the book of kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is apt:

    It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to his heart.