A butterfly flaps its wings somewhere and a hurricane ravages an entire area elsewhere. There might be days where everything about us feels small, insignificant and unnecessary. It is difficult to fathom what our being here really means or contributes in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes can all feel like the hypnotic chug-chug of a train rolling down old wooden tracks; the courses, clubs, weekends, games. Rolling down the same path it always has, making the same sounds and traveling the same route. It isn’t morbid but human curiosity to wonder what the world would be like if we hadn’t been pushed out, squalling and terrified from the first moment, into it.
As we enter the last four weeks before spring break, and everyone around us begins preparing, we might also want to entertain the notion of finding solace and answers for such thoughts in the vastness of words, and the stories they inspire, rather than attempting to drink it all away. Because we may not have the same flippant charm as a butterfly, but we can sure as hell stir up grander things than a measly hurricane.
Believing is the first step to finding yourself in space, the future or wonderland. It has to begin with your belief in yourself, and sometimes our beliefs alone can will something into existence. Terry Pratchett’s “Hogfather” is a story about belief and how so many things in the world simply are because we willed them into being. Witness a small girl talking to death about grinding down the universe into tiny particles, sieving through it and seeing if you can find even one atom of justice or mercy in it. Rather than feeling morose, in its own words death shows a glimpse of that ever-illusive greater meaning: “Humans need fantasy to be humans. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”
So it goes. We’ve all heard that phrase at some point; three ordinary words and yet it packs a punch. Why? Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” is the reason. Read about the author’s personal experiences from World War II as a plea against mass butchery of human lives, except in a way that still boasts humor and an unmatched adeptness at writing. It may be heavy stuff—albeit portrayed in an imaginative and funny way—but it helps you realize that, despite so much tragedy around us, it’s still okay. We’re still okay. And we still have a chance to look toward the future, while accepting the present and the past. "That's one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones."
Disenchantment is an ugly feeling. It is perhaps the only emotion that makes you want to crawl outside of your skin and try to find another; it seeps in slowly like dirty fog and settles into every crevice it can find to weigh there like the dismembered limbs and bones of beliefs once held precious. When grieving such a loss, raging at God helps in a way that C.S. Lewis epitomizes brilliantly in “A Grief Observed.” In the wake of his wife’s death, he talks about those “mad midnight moments” where everything begs to be questioned. Writing this book was his “defense against total collapse, a safety valve,” and a stellar way to show us how to truly fall apart; "Oh God, God, why did you take such trouble to force this creature out of his shell if it is now doomed to crawl back - to be sucked back - into it?" Only so you can at some point find better ways to build yourself back up again.
Albert Camus explores "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd,” in “The Stranger” and perhaps the best way to introduce his work is to quote what he himself said in its defense. "I summarized ‘The Stranger’ a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: 'In our society any man who does not weep at his mother's funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.' I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.” It is as heady as it is foreboding, realizing the life we have is only ours at the very crux of it and that deviancy aside, no one ever truly has any semblance of a right to judge us. Rather than take the protagonist’s life and its depressing turn of events at face value, it is what simmers beneath the surface that matters here. The universe will blatantly show us indifference at every turn: What prevents us from conjuring a killer smirk and doing the same?
Sometimes traditions need to be deviated from or broken. Admittedly, this is not a breezy list of books you would traditionally find as recommendations to read during spring break; but then again, you won’t have to bend over backwards to find a list with cheerful titles or book covers with shirtless men and quivering bosoms if you put your mind to it. I have my own version of that as well and while their existence provides me with glorious carelessness, diving and delving deeper into the dregs of everything around us and the fears we do not set free is what will bring you a renewed vigor for life.