El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

Posts Tagged ‘day of the dead

“Gooseberries” by Anton Chekhov

leave a comment »

As an undergraduate at the university I had a favorite Professor of English who was a devotee of the French philosophers. After a few of his literature courses I became an existentialist for a couple of years. In my own defense, I never owned a beret or even a black turtleneck sweater. But I will admit it was kind of fun to live a life where I could “plunge to the depths of despair” while clearly separating myself from those around me that seemed oblivious to the true meaningless of life and the eternal suffering of our pitiful human condition. Even now it can sometimes seem comforting to view the natural forces that sustain our lives–the Sun, water, wind–as simply rotting our planet away in the midst of an uncaring and unforgiving universe.

Of course, eventually, I had to graduate and begin the time honored process of clawing my way into the middle-class. A family, a job, a home, even a station-wagon seemed to salve my sense that something wasn’t right. A life in the ‘burbs, surrounded by other families that were all building toward the elusive and perhaps, indefinable, “American dream” was easy to fall into and, to be honest, had its own rewards, I could say that I was happy. A life of “quiet desperation” was preferable to one punctuated by dark despair and Weltschmerz; and besides, I just don’t look good in a beret!

Well, now that former life is gone. I live in a tiny apartment, tucked into a very Mexican neighborhood surrounded by a dirty, often noisy, ramshackle industrial city thousands of miles away from family and friends. Man, talk about the potential for despair! Usually I am more frustrated by the injustice that I witness around me than despairing over my own human condition. In a way I consider myself very fortunate–I had a life I loved and now have a chance at a second life, a life with a purposefulness that I can define, instead of having a life that defines me. I’ve been allowed to join the ranks of the “reconstructed existentialists” that recognize a life of moping despair serves no one. And to walk with the Sun on your back or the rain in your face should not be oppressive but inspiring; the tiny, ephemeral joys of this existence are what we get and in large part are what we make of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t morphed into a Pollyanna, or a Sarah Palin. Life is still a very confusing and challenging condition, and to paraphrase the old bumper sticker: Mean People Still Suck. But that is what makes the hundreds of thoughtful, caring, intelligent people I have been privileged to meet and know and work with over the years all the more important. Gee, that does sound kind of “Pollyanna-like”. Regardless, imagine, if you can, my response when I recently rediscovered Anton Chekhovs’ short story “Gooseberries” tucked into an old paper-back edition of “The Best Short Stories of the Modern Age”. Certainly “Gooseberries” meets the criteria for inclusion in the book.

Chekhov lived from 1860 to 1904 and was born in Russia. His contributions to the modern short story include sharing a deep sympathy for his characters and their situations. He writes with an, often, stark truthfulness more focused on the flow of ideas than on formal plot lines. Obviously, I am not classifying Chekhov as an existentialist but his work can often give that same sense of despair.https://i0.wp.com/www.my-chekhov.com/images/foto/chehov_24.jpg
Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements