Existentialism and Ecuador

The lecture/discussion on the idea of Existentialism held a significant place in my mind this weekend. I tried to play it off in class as if I haven’t thought about it much. I wouldn’t consider it troubling to me, rather it has reminded me of stuff that I learned this summer.

This summer I went to Ecuador for two weeks through a program called Global Glimpse. In the program, I and several other students from around Chicago were sent to Riobamba, Ecuador and were provided with glimpses into the lives of those who live there. Riobamba is a fairly large city in Ecuador, four hours outside of Quito.

One of my biggest takeaways from the trip was the understanding of the cultural differences between the United States and the locals of Riobamba. A common question in the United States is “what are you going to do when you grow up?” In Ecuador, you are born into what you are going to do. You live, you work, you provide, you eat, and you go on with life. There are those who do want to socially climb, but for the majority of Riobamba life is about just making the best out of what you have. Whereas in the US, we definitely give many systems the power that they run on: “success”, celebrity, etc…

When I came home, the biggest difference that I saw in myself was that I was significantly less worried about the systems of power that always seemed to be the “be all end all”: friends, college, success, sports….. Not that I didn’t care about these things or people, I just didn’t constantly worry about them. I was way more willing to take risks since I didn’t think about what others would think nearly as much as I had previously.

If you know me, I am a very, very, very methodical person. I like to take in all the information that I can gather before I ever make a decision. Ever since I came home from Ecuador, I have regressed back into that normalcy, especially since school started. Almost everything that I gained in Ecuador I have tossed out the window. This may be due to college apps, just always being around people, or the fact that it is hard to change a mindset that I have had all my life.

But the discussion we had on Friday threw all that I learned in Ecuador back into my face. Because of my experiences in Ecuador, I definitely agree with Existentialism far more than most of my peers.

However, there are still points of emphasis within Existentialism that I question. One being, I do not think that work is always a system of power. I have seen how work can give tremendous meaning to life. I met a man who owned a leather shoe factory, who only charges what is needed to break even. He could over price his product, and make a huge profit but that isn’t why he gets up and works in the morning.

Doing what you love is not giving power to a system, it gives power to you.

The system of work only gains power when people work in a field that they are not passionate about working in. If a person becomes a doctor for the money, then that would be giving power to the system.

Existentialism is going to continue to be on my mind even after this blog post, and I hope to exhibit what I find to be the best parts of it as well as question things that give me pause.

Existentialism Changed My Life. Here’s How it Can Change Yours.

Existentialism has a bad reputation, not helped by the way it is often taught. As a philosophy, it really is best taught through media. I remember zoning out in my 7th grade English classroom, engrossed in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I think I finished the whole play between class periods in a few days. I just couldn’t put it down.

If you’re unfamiliar, Waiting for Godot follows two men, Vladimir and Estragon. They are, as alluded to in the title, waiting for another man named Godot. Spoiler alert: he never arrives. While waiting, they become extremely bored. They encounter other characters, but the main plot of the story is merely the act of waiting. Towards the end of the play, they attempt suicide, but ultimately fail. They decide to go find shelter, but as the curtain closes, they do not move.

This may sound like an incredibly depressing play. But I disagree. If you read the play, you will see that Vladimir and Estragon are not in fact sad whatsoever. Indeed, the play is really a comedy. They laugh, they joke, they love, and they wait.

But that’s not the point of this post. We’re talking about existentialism.

I read Waiting for Godot during one of the darkest points in my life. I was incredibly depressed, and things were only getting worse. I read the play and went on to study more about existentialism and absurdism.

What it led me to realize is that all of the pressure I was feeling from my parents, from school, from my mental illness itself…none of it mattered. The only thing that mattered was me, and the fact that I was alive.

That realization changed everything. I was alive! What a miracle! Despite everything, I was alive, and it was beautiful. When I was at my worst, it was just another obstacle in my path. When I was so stressed I was breaking down daily, it was just like a hurricane. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t happening for a reason. It was just happening, and someday it would stop happening, and something else would happen. I had goals, and maybe I would reach them, and maybe I wouldn’t. But it wouldn’t matter either way, because I would be alive, and the life I would be living would be beautiful for the sheer fact that I was alive.

Existentialism isn’t about the fact that nothing matters. It isn’t about death; it’s about life. It’s about how your life is worth living simply because it is yours. Isn’t that beautiful?

Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot like we wait for death, but in the meanwhile, they live, and they are happy.

Death to the King: Reaction to Ending of King Hedley II

SPOILERS AHEAD….you have been warned.

I’d just like to thank the Court Theatre at the University of Chicago for the production they put on of the August Wilson play King Hedley II. The cast were incredible, and it was definitely one of the best plays I have been to.

Since leaving the theatre, the scene that left the most impact on me has been the conclusion.

The Death

How more tragic of an ending could there be than a mother who has always wanted to be recognized as her son’s mother by her son, and then killing her son with the gun that was given to her by her son’s best friend when she meant to kill the man she was about to marry.

The Wedding

I would describe King Hedley II as a scale with tragic and comedic elements on both sides with King being the fulcrum. Towards the end of the play there was tremendous balance between both sides. It seemed to have even been sent over the edge by the “wedding” between Elmore and Ruby officiated by Mister. In Shakespeare plays, a wedding typically signaled that the play was a comedy, and August Wilson masterfully utilizes this to lead the audience into thinking that the play was going to end with a happy ending. But with the death of King and the way in which he died, completely broke the scale leaving the audience understanding that the play was meant to be a tragedy.

The “Resurrection” of Aunt Ester’s Cat

Throughout the play, the reoccurring theme of repetition of history is clearly seen. Stool Pigeon hoards news papers to always be surrounded by recorded history of mistakes other people have made so he can preach to others to not make the same mistakes again. Tonya’s fear of making the same mistake with King’s baby she made when she was 18. Ruby falling in love with Elmore as she did when she was younger. Tonya thinking that King will fall into the same cycle as others and go back to jail or get killed.

August Wilson is displaying the trap of the institutional cycle placed upon African Americans of the 1980s to the audience. August Wilson is making the argument that even though King has died there will always be another black man who wants to get on the straight and narrow, there will always be a Mister who isn’t living up to his potential, there will always be a Ruby who keeps on making mistakes when it comes to men, there will always be a Tonya who can’t trust those who love her, there will always be an Elmore who is the father figure that King needs but will continue to be absent, and there will always be just another……… alley cat.