I have these index cards.
Handwritten notes. Made when I was in high school.
Yeah-yeah. Those who know me would not be surprised that I saved them … for more than 50 years.
I dug them out this week because I started wondering about the first book that made me think.
The first book that moved me. Made me pause to look around and wonder how I fit.
While reading I was bombarded with thoughts about life, people, religion, good vs. bad. And me.
Now I had absorbed a lot of books before I read this one. Including textbooks.
And they all had impact. Affected me. Took me places. Taught me things.
But this one in particular was talking — to me. And not only was I listening, I was taking notes.
On those index cards I wrote down quotes and paraphrases, thoughts I did not want to forget.
I’m not sure I understood everything I wrote down. But so much felt important. Words worth saving.
Like this: “No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures.”
I’ve used this insight many times when measuring others, especially government leaders.
All the notes I wrote down felt profound at the time. And many still do.
The author speaking to me was Albert Camus. The book was “The Fall.”
Actually, full disclosure, my stack of index cards also includes notes from “The Stranger,” also by Camus.
The plots of both books and the main characters have faded over time. But the thoughts I jotted down have lingered over many years.
I wonder now how much of what I wrote down stayed with me and helped shape me.
Shaped me before I had a clue I would become a newspaper reporter and editor.
And put important questions in my head before I knew it would be my job to ask questions. To try and make sense of people and the world.
Yeah, I’d say much of it did stay with me.
Perhaps rereading these index cards comes at a good time.
“Nowhere in the world has there been a party or a man with absolute power who did not use it absolutely.”
“Being master of one’s moods is the privilege of the large animals.”
“Our society is organized so that attrition or rubbing or wearing down is a major means of liquidation.”
“Truth is relative.”
“No course justifies the death of the innocent.”
“People are so readily resigned to fatality.”
“… Every society has the criminals it deserves.”
“Falsehood is just as much the opposite of dialogue as is silence …”
“Your success and happiness are forgiven you only if you generously consent to share them.”
“People judge so’s not to be judged themselves. Wealth is a defense against being judged.”
“To justify himself, each relies on the other’s crime.”
“Freedom is the concern of the oppressed …”
“… Without giving anything up on the plane of justice, yield nothing on the plane of freedom.”
“Poverty increases insofar as freedom retreats throughout the world.”
“Heroism and sacrifice were not enough to justify a cause.”
“… It is only fair to recognize one’s opponent’s reasons before defending …”
“When violence answers violence in a growing frenzy that makes the simple language of reason impossible, the role of intellectuals cannot be, as we read every day, to excuse from a distance one of the violences and condemn the other. This has the double result of enraging the violent group that is condemned and encouraging to greater violence the violent group that is exonerated.”
Seems like all these thoughts stand the test of time.
Now I can’t say I totally agree with all these thoughts, but each one still speaks to me.
Their message is simply: “Hey. Think about this for awhile.”
So I credit these books for doing just that — sparking my teenaged brain. Getting me to think about important things for awhile.
I should note that when I was reading these books I also was enrolled in a high school class that was waking me up.
The subject umbrella was sociology and this was a new class taught by a great teacher. His mission was go get us to read and think. Mostly about society and how we fit in.
I can’t recall exactly, but I think he introduced us to Camus and Jean-Paul Sarte and other “modern” philosophers.
His mission was accomplished. He got me to focus and think and write down my thoughts.
Something I still do.
I still mark passages in books and even take notes at movies.
I am dating myself, I guess. All those Camus quotes I can find online now, with even more detail. And perhaps more accuracy.
But I won’t be tossing away my note cards.
They remind me of a time and a place and who I was. And what I cared about.
And the first books that made me wonder, really wonder … who am I?
And … who will I be?
LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.