Aya Sharabi/MiC.

Yesterday, I fell in love. 

It happened in an instant, or in the few seconds it took me to glance up to see what was tangible only for a moment: the moon’s hazy shape through the snowfall. Suddenly I forgot all about that dreadful coding exam I had just taken and the dreadful coffee I had just been drinking and the dreadful week I’d been having up until that very moment and all I could think was: it really is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning.

And last week, too, when a friend told me they’d watched a movie because I’d once briefly mentioned it was my favorite, I could’ve swooned right then and there. A song recommendation is akin to a declaration of friendship, a random encounter on the street, evidence of fate. A lended book, returned with all the right parts underlined, could easily make me burst into tears. Strangers holding open doors, letting you go first in line, holding you back when you accidentally try to cross the street without noticing a car coming — so fleeting, yet so lovingly sacred.

I’ve always had a tendency to find divine meaning in the most infinitesimal of moments. I want to say it comes from an inherent romanticism, something built into the programming of my psyche, but I know it’s just as much a form of self-preservation I’ve honed down to an art as it is an innate instinct. Sometimes, living feels contingent on the very ability to find beauty in the banal, meaning in the mundane. Life becomes more exciting, yes, but also more bearable. 

While I’ve always been an overly romantic person, up until recently, finding meaning in occurrences like someone holding open a door was beyond even me. It’s one thing to romanticize what’s traditionally appealing, from beautiful photos to enviable montages, and it’s made even easier with the constant stream of external validation you receive in turn. It’s another to truly and earnestly and sincerely look at your daily rituals, at the dreary Monday morning sky on the way to your 8 a.m. and at the stranger smiling at you while passing by and at the slightly burnt instant Eggo waffle you’re eating for breakfast and to think: how lovely. Even if no one else would deem it so. Perhaps entirely because no one else would.

Part of the way I see the world around me has developed from a natural progression of who I am and who I’ve always been (in other words: overly tenderhearted, overly misty-eyed); but a lot of it has also come from the art and literature I’ve become intimately acquainted with over the years, much of which has fundamentally rewired my belief of what it means to be alive — paintings by Monet and writing by James Baldwin come to mind. If I had to sum it all up in one term, I’d say this tendency to find meaning in the meaningless is absurdism. My first introduction to absurdism in the modern sense was last winter, through a collection of essays I stumbled upon by chance written by French philosopher Albert Camus.

To define absurdism, Camus postulates three central points: the universe is irrational, we long for rationality, and the confrontation between this irrational universe and this uniquely human longing is the absurd. Notably, this longing for clarity exists in everyone. It’s only a matter of coming into contact with the irrational that the absurd establishes itself as an axiom. Upon becoming cognizant of this absurdity, Camus outlines several reactions you could have — including but not limited to suicide, philosophical suicide, intellectual suicide, emotional suicide… Anyway, the one that stuck out to me the most, of course, is his final conclusion: “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

While oft-quoted and quite simple in phrasing, the depth of the rhetoric of this line moved me the first time I encountered it. To imagine Sisyphus, a mythological being quite literally immortalized in history for the immensity of his suffering, happy? It was a concept quite difficult to wrap my head around. His fate condemned to the endlessly futile act of rolling a boulder up a hill is dreary on its own, but even more so in the framework of the 21st-century modern hustle culture we live in. Forget fruitlessly rolling a boulder up a hill for eternity — just waiting in traffic on the highway is torment enough for most people. Slow days and mundanity are something to be stoically endured rather than appreciated. Only when on a pedestal does life feel meaningful.

Only when I began to find meaning in the quotidian did I start to internalize Camus’s words, because to truly and genuinely imagine Sisyphus happy means to embody Camus’s approach to the irrationality of the universe. In this line I believe he sums up the essence of absurdism: to live is to rebel, to find meaning in the absurd, including the mundanity that comes with it rather than despite it. Almost paradoxically, in his captivity Sisyphus finds freedom. Sisyphus is happy because his fate compels him to feel otherwise. We all have our own proverbial boulder regardless of how we may try to convince ourselves otherwise, ever-present and as intrinsically familiar to us as a dear friend. To become cognizant of this and to find a meaning despite it may well be the single most important expression of our autonomy. Maybe finding love for the mundane is as much a resistance to a fatal capitulation towards meaninglessness as it is an act of courage. 

So here’s a short list of what I know:

  • Winter is cold.
  • My room is pretty small.
  • It’s impossible to make something out of nothing. Scientifically, at least. 
  • To see, of course, necessitates being seen.

So lately I’ve been looking at everybody and everything like I love them. 

MIC Columnist Aya Sharabi can be reached at asharabi@umich.edu.