The first chapter of The Stranger has caught me in an odd place. The title character, Meursault, acts in a way that for most of my life I would have found irrational. He has a strange detachment at his mother's funeral, but not because he had any kind of problem with her. He finds himself at a small impasse in front of her coffin at the vigil. He finds himself asking if he should be smoking and drinking coffee in front of his dead mother. After hesitating, he realizes that he doesn't care and that it doesn't matter.
All his thoughts at the vigil are not of his life and relationship with his mother but they are actually about his surroundings at the funeral home: the night air, the smell of the flowers, the warmth of the coffee. Meursault is unfeeling and unsentimental about anything beyond his present experience even the death of his own mother. He barely reflects even on the concept of death.
This is the opposite of the horde of old folks who fill the funeral home with him. They do not make an effort to connect with him at all and fall asleep or become lost in their own thoughts. For these old people, the vigil is a protest, not of the loss of one of their own, but of the universal concept of death itself.
Part of me relates to the seemingly cold attitude of Meursault, people I have known my entire life have died and I am surprised by my lack of sadness for people that I truly loved. I have never thought of myself as unsentimental but where are the lamentations?
I am actually sadder about potential deaths than actual deaths.
However, three weeks ago, I found myself in a similar position as Meursault in The Stranger. At a funeral for my grandmother's sister, I approached the cousins and Aunties that sat before the coffin and gave my respects. While I loitered in front of the coffin, an inlaw engaged me in a conversation about business matters that started to gain some mutual momentum. You know that feeling when a conversation shifts into a higher pace and into a deeper strata and your senses heighten and you look around to see what you are sacrificing to go to the next level with this person.
I, unlike Meursault, could not ignore the coffin and, for a split second, asked myself why not. There was no answer,though, just a compulsion to respect the dead.
But, that compulsion had nothing to do with the feelings of the deceased but more with a feeling inside my head. The unsentimental man inside of me is acknowledging the sentimental man as if I know that man needs to be there in order to be whole.
Well, nothing like a funeral to bring out the narcissist in you.
Albert Camus, The Stranger, Absurd, Absurdism, Books, Writing, Le Monde 100,