Scott the Jehovah’s Witness, The Stranger, and Being Okay
October 26, 2016
Five minutes after I finished The Stranger, two Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on my door.
Albert Camus’ The Stranger is a 1940s novel on the absurd. It follows a senseless and arguably sociopathic man named Meursault. He interacts with his neighbors, experiences his mother’s death, and murders a man.
At the end of this novel, Meursault’s indifference, which has been present throughout, evokes a madness within him. He is in a prison cell awaiting his execution, a payment for the execution he performed. Until now static, Meursault’s final moments feature him internally screaming, discovering the hatred of the world and empathizing for the first time. Here we discover the fear in our death. Here we analyze the toll mortality can take on any man.
I faced this dilemma – the absence of answer in “the end” – with a heavy heart, a weighted conscience. I finished the 123-page novel with a blank face. I had never analyzed a character so calmly and unwittingly deranged. It was during this analysis I began to connect a decent amount of my life to his. I had, of late, been rather numb to my surroundings. My interests had dwindled, my passions had fizzled, and my dreams had gone dormant. I had become a shell of myself, floating above my body, viewing this vestige perform my daily routines. Like many, and like I experience now and again, I was plagued with a yearning for purpose. I had been dull.
Upon completion of the novel, and the subsequent analysis, I began the next step in the reoccurring process of my life temporarily flat lining: acceptance. I did what I usually do: realized my insignificance but the beauty in it, acknowledged the daily happenstance of all other bodies in the Universe, empathized with strangers from the days previous, etc. I searched inside myself and pulled out this bright invisible thing, this small phenomenon: being okay. I took some deep breaths, and was close to an optimism. The Stranger allowed me to find the meaning in the absurd.
After shoveling weight from the Hill of Monotony recently created on my chest, I found buried underneath a finished novel and sort of inner peace. I set down both the book and my ego, when I heard three knocks on my door.
I peaked out my window to find a tan SUV, perhaps a Honda, parked in my driveway. I do not know anyone who drives a tan, perhaps Honda, SUV.
I was feeling curious and went to the door. Upon opening it, I found a man of what seemed to be mid sixties, about 6 feet tall, standing with a smile on his face next to a small, cleanly dressed young woman. He had on a suit and cane, a small pair of glasses, and a partially covered white head of hair. She had on an eager but shy grin, a flower-patterned dress, braided pigtails, and a brownish colored coat. Though I never got her name, he is Scott, and they are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I engaged in the two by opening my main door, leaving the screen closed, enabling discussion through the mesh. Scott began our interaction by inviting me to a bible study at his church. He described a meeting of people, all discussing and analyzing the Bible. I thanked him, took his small piece of paper, and truthfully told him I may or may not attend. Having finished The Stranger moments before, I asked him if he’d ever heard of Albert Camus, which he hadn’t, and explained the novel’s character and story. He was especially interested in a scene from the end of the novel in which Meursault strangles a priest when asked to face God. We spent about 15 minutes discussing the importance of knowing your final resting place before you reach it. We spoke of the fear of not knowing, the curiosity underlying us all, and the eventual, inevitable death working on us daily. He did not suggest I follow an entity; he did not give me any “answers”. He gave me minimal, simple, but powerful details of his life.
Scott was 17 during the Vietnam War. He told me of the various outlets of news, the country facing the idea of a man killing a stranger, out of pride. He was unsettled with this fact. Scott did not grow up in a religious home and sought personal answers in the eyes of the barbaric tendencies of humans. He spent years soul searching and making friends with a number of deities. Through this time, he found the Bible to be the most stimulating and important piece of work to him.
I told him of my natural inner seeking as well, and my knowledge of religion. I told him I am not a religious person and have never felt a strong pull to a certain belief, though I carry the belief of something greater existing. I told him of my knowledge of the Bible (which is fair), and of a book I’d read last summer, Biblical Literacy by Joseph Telushkin. The book analyzes the Bible and the endless interpretations of it. Scott and I discussed the Bible’s countless contradictions and vast amount of knowledge. We shared passages and notes, and finished with a period of time on the Book of Revelation and the end times.
The end of our conversation focused on the dangerous beauty of literacy; we can find ourselves lost in fiction, but gain knowledge and empathy from it. I shared with him my dreams of becoming a writer, and he wished me the best of luck. He told me to never stop reading, and I thanked him once more. After stepping through the screen door to shake he and his companion’s hand, Scott thanked me, and left me with a verse:
“Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”
It was as if Scott had sensed my novel conclusion and search for contentment. I found the passage he left me to say much of The Stranger, the coincidence in meeting him, myself, and this existence as a whole. “Of making many books there is no end,” details my fear of writing, for I know pursuing the career will be a rocky and trivial path. I know my love for the art will never falter, and I will create pieces until the day I can no longer think. “Much study wearies the body,” spoke profoundly to me as well, for as I heard this 70 year old man recite these words, I was staring at the palpable version of them. Scott had spent his life studying, and was now walking with a cane, age clear on his skin, his face. He had spent his life discovering what’s made him wholesome, and he, presumably a decent amount, travels door to door, boldly, to spread the answers he’s found. In this case, study certainly does weary the body. However, though study may tire, I believe Scott has found fulfillment, something which makes the importance of pursuing passions worth it.
My completion of The Stranger, followed by my resurrection from tedium, followed by my interaction with Scott, has revitalized me and stuck with me for what has now been weeks. I am writing this to say I appreciate people like Scott, and hope to encounter others like him. He never once pressed his personal agenda onto me uncomfortably, acting with a sincerity and talking to me like a person. I am writing this to say when I find writing to leave me weary, when I can’t think of a story or sentence or word, I know new life will still leave my pen. I am writing this to remind others to think the same way, to pursue what they love, to study, to seek fulfillment. I am writing this to summarize the difficulty of life, but the beauty in the tragedy of finding why we’re here. We will all die one day. Scott will, I will, everyone I’ve ever known, everyone they’ve ever known, and all of them in between will breathe their last breath. But, there doesn’t have to be sadness in this. Though we die, I don’t believe we end. Our stories, our influence, our intensity, continues.
Each story must be made, and a story before that one too, and of all of these stories, there is no end.
I urge you to never give up on what you love, to never quit, to break the boredom, and to find answers. Most importantly, while you do this, communicate with and help others. No story is created alone.