I switch hands into a non-dominant cradle and whip my lacrosse stick toward a fleeting opening I see in the goal. The crowd erupts in cheers as the net gives in to the weight of the ball and my teammates surround me in a large embrace. I look over to the sideline and my coach is smiling at me—a rare sign of emotion. I feel the momentum build within myself and my teammates; although we are down by two and time is winding down, there is a newly inspired hope.
After reading Albert Camus’s The Stranger, translated into English, I understand the basic plot, but the allegedly philosophical power of this novel continues to elude me. I turn to L’Étranger, Camus’s own untranslated text, and gradually begin to sense how the detached narrative reflects the protagonist’s own lack of emotional connection to anyone or anything. I now realize how much is really “lost in translation,” as words that technically mean the same thing in English don’t make the same impression on me as they do in their original French. I am suddenly closer to Camus and his ideas.
Existentialism itself captivated me immediately, and not merely because of Camus’s brilliant prose. I was drawn to the whole idea that a person’s existence is determined by that person’s own choices in life, that there is a freedom to one’s actions. I have made various sacrifices in my life, forgoing short-term gratification in order to strive toward long-term goals, and I used to resent these sacrifices. But I knew always that the decisions were my own. Specifically, I used to resent all the painstaking effort that practice entails: answering the phone on a Saturday afternoon only to say that I cannot go out because I have to practice the weekend before a violin concert; spending 30 extra minutes on a rainy March afternoon after an already long and painful lacrosse practice, with my hands aching and head hurting with the monotony of repetition; hearing the voices of characters from “Grey’s Anatomy” on the living room television and having to restrain my desire to run downstairs to watch because I have to review in meticulous detail the different verb tenses for a French quiz.
But these efforts were, in the end, what mattered. Success is only as gratifying as it is because of the struggle and energy it entails. If success came gift-wrapped in a box waiting for me at my front door, it would not mean as much to me. President Kennedy’s famous remark about choosing to go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is hard comes to mind. That violin note, that lacrosse goal, that linguistic epiphany—each is beautiful to me because of what came before it. The memory of those private struggles is, in truth, what I experience most intensely during my moments of glory.