Albert Camus was a French writer and philosopher, the second youngest recipient in history to win the Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 43. He was born in 1913. The last time I thought about Camus was when I was in my early 20s. I read his book “The Stranger,” at the insistence of my brother, a Harvard undergrad and Harvard Law School grad who talked and talked about the author. I mention my brother’s school credentials, not to brag about my family but rather to mention one of the absurdities of life. Why wasn’t a girl’s education as important as a boy’s then? I tie Camus to my pattern of education because he contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism; the conflict between human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any. One absurdity that had a direct effect on my life was that boys were afforded and entitled to a better education than girls.
Growing up in Kankakee by the Sea in a large Jewish family, education was very important, especially for sons. Daughters did not count. I had 14 first cousins. The boys were sent away to prep schools; the girls graduated from Kankakee High by the Sea. The boys were all accepted into Ivy League colleges such as Harvard and Yale. The girls attended Big Ten Universities. I have wondered on occasion where life would have taken me if I had been afforded the opportunity to attend prep school. Not one to live in my past, unless it suits my fancy, I say to myself, “La de da. Just another one of life’s absurdities.”
Two days ago, out of the blue, my friend Emilie sent me a quote by Camus. It reminded me the absurdity of my education. I will love this quote for the rest of my life.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.”
I was euphoric. I felt intense emotional excitement as I re-read the quote because the quote summed up who I am. My positivity is indestructible, unbeatable; bulletproof. I search for a way to turn a negative into an “invincible summer.” My glass is half full.
Such was the case when I entered college. I was so excited until I bought my books at the bookstore. I was overwhelmed by their size, their thickness. I was overwhelmed by the number of books I needed for each class. My first lecture was World History 101. I was overwhelmed by the size of the auditorium, the number of kids, maybe 300 strong. I cannot recall a word the professor said because I had not been taught to take notes. I was a lost 18-year-old girl who graduated from Kankakee High by the Sea. “Why wasn’t I a boy?” I remember thinking to myself.
I knew I had to find a way to survive. You have to be thinking all the time, darlings, especially when you are faced with a major dilemma that could turn catastrophic. This was catastrophic. Each class was huge. English 101 may have had 500 kids. I felt fear.
One day, in a lecture, I found myself seated next to a girl whose notes were impeccable. I immediately seized the moment and introduced myself. It turned out we were living in the same freshman dorm on the same floor. “Today is going to be my lucky day,” I thought to myself. After class, I asked her if she would have lunch with me. Her name was Barbara. It turned out that she was a brilliant student who graduated from New Trier High School, a great school in the Chicago suburbs.
Barbara’s skin was as white as chalk. She had red kinky unmanageable long hair. She was slightly overweight and walked with her feet pointed out. She wore no makeup and had no style. But she was so smart and so nice. I liked her immediately and though our lifestyles were opposite, she wanted to incorporate a little of me in her person and I definitely wanted to incorporate a lot of her in mine.
Over lunch, I opened up to her, told her how lost I was in class. I asked her to help me. “Would you please teach me how to take notes; to do a perfect outline?” She was the type of girl who enjoyed helping. I was her perfect candidate, her student. Barbara became my personal professor and close friend.
Not one to take advantage I tactfully mentioned to her I would love to ‘school’ her on fashion. “If you will let me I would love to be your fashion consultant.”
Hysterical right? We were like Mutt and Jeff. She was brilliant. I had style. I loved sorority life. She preferred to be alone. What we had in common, was our inner values and the thrill of learning in all areas.
I have tried to find her. I would love to know if she became a college professor, a writer, a mother, a grandmother. I would love to know where she is living. I would love to know If she traveled the world or preferred learning from books. I would love to know….
Barbara and I would continue our friendship; I have no doubt. We would be intellectual friends. Fashion would not enter the picture. I would not let it because in the realm of my life words speak volumes over material possessions. Barbara opened my eyes to the value of the written word. I will be ever grateful.