Huis clos – Life after death

Many years ago in high school, I had to read and write an essay about the theatre play ‘Huis clos’ (or ‘No exit’ in English) by Jean-Paul Sartre. It wasn’t easy to read such philosophical text in French, but I couldn’t put the little book down. In fact, I read it for a second time immediately after finishing it.

The play is about life after death, more specifically in hell. But this image of hell is nothing like the common beliefs about it in society. No devil with pointy horns, no eternal fire, no physical torture. Instead, three people are put together in one room for eternity. There is no place to hide from each other and no way out. There is no day and night, just eternity.

I will keep the detailed version of this vision of hell for you to read. I found it fascinating and horrible at the same time. I imagined myself in the situation of the characters in the book and couldn’t help to find this idea of hell possibly closer to reality than what I had heard and read about it before.

It interests me to think about these topics, although I don’t think there is a way of knowing other than actually leaving this life. I doesn’t make me afraid. To me, it is not more probable that there is a heaven and hell than there being only a blissful nothing. I will definitely read this play again and possibly read more of Sartre’s writings.

‘So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is—other people!’ ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

A bird in a cage

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Several years ago, someone I hardly knew compared me to a little bird who was trapped in a cage. She told me that the door of the cage was no longer closed and that I could fly out. I don’t know what made her tell me this, but I believe it was quite accurate.

Not long after this moment, I chose to give it a try to get out of the cage. It took me all the courage I possessed, but after a while I spread my wings. Although it was clumsy at first and I bumped into some obstacles, I learned that I could fly.

Yesterday I was observing a beautiful yellow bird in a small cage. The door was opened and yet the bird chose to stay inside, as if it had forgotten it was supposed to be free.

I realised that in my present life I sometimes do the same. When I stand in front of important crossroads, I often feel in my heart which path to choose. Unfortunately, this is almost always the path that scares me most. What I catch myself doing then, is climb back in my small cage where I have known it to be uncomfortable, but safe. Luckily I usually come to a point where I realise again which motto I want to live by: ‘Do the things you are most afraid of to do’.

I am not talking about doing things that make you feel angry, sad, jealous or any other unpleasant emotion. Protecting yourself from potentially harmful situations is important and a way of loving yourself. I am also not talking about healthy fear that causes the fight or flight reaction in situations of which you rationally know that they are not good for you.

What I am talking about, is that paralysing fear that guides you away from what you actually want in life. It is one of the best teachers. I have found that when I look my ghosts in the eye, they evaporate in no time, which leaves me with an amazing feeling of victory and wondering why I was ever afraid. So, I tell myself every time, and I am telling you now: ‘Common little birdie, it is time to fly!’

The life of books – When people share

A couple of weeks ago, I paid a visit to an old telephone booth in Berlin. Nice, you could say, but what is special about that? Well, this specific telephone booth was completely filled from bottom till top with all kinds of books. Old, new, fiction, non-fiction, big, small, but one thing they had in common: they were all placed there by a previous owner to be passed on to the next reader.

I love this concept of sharing books for free. You give a book a new home and replace it by a book that you are ready to pass on. Sometimes, if you are really lucky, you can find some real jewels. Maybe that one book you have been hoping to read for a while now or a great classic.

Thanks to a very nice person,  I went home with a German copy of ‘Sophie’s world’ by Jostein Gaarder and a series of books about Commissario Brunetti. I had never heard of the author Donna Leon before, but since the books were in a good state, compact and seemed interesting enough, I decided to take two of them with me on my travels through Indonesia.

That is how I came to read ‘The girl of his dreams’ on the long train ride from Bandung to Yogyakarta with the sound of air conditioning buzzing in my ears. I almost finished it in one session of reading and not just because there wasn’t much to do on the train. I really enjoyed my first encounter with Commissario Brunetti, his family and colleagues. I followed the thrilling storyline with pleasure, but was surprised by more intellectual aspects appearing in the book as well.

On the train from Yogyakarta to Probolinggo and then further to Banyuwangi, I started reading ‘About face’  by Donna Leon. Although it evolves around the same main character and again in the city of Venice, it can interest me enough so far to continue reading and to look forward to reading the rest of the books, waiting for me back in Berlin.

Thinking about life: Ecclesiastes

Spending time in Indonesia has brought up some deeper questions in my mind that I would like to share with you.

To be honest, I feel overwhelmed several times a day and sometimes I feel homesick. To me, the traffic is crazy, the weather so hot and humid, insect bites itchy and not so easy to go to the places I want to visit, unless I cough up a lot of money. I actually had hoped for a lot of beautiful nature closeby so that I could make walks, rewind and come closer to myself again. Instead I am lost in the amount of information of ’22 things you have to do in this or that place’ or ‘most beautiful places in…’. It costs so much to go to these spots and to me, the amount of other tourists and merchandisers around take away most of the charm and serenity. The funny thing is that I read a lot about places to take cool pictures for Instagram or other social media. Well… I am not that kind of person.

This made me wonder what I actually look for, by travelling across countries and even continents. I don’t like it to visit touristic places to take pictures to show how hip I am by being there. I don’t think I like it either to be the backpacker who goes completely back to basic, socializes with everyone and who undertakes great but dangerous adventures in the wild. I am a rather calm, sensitive, dreamy and introvert person. I do like it to do voluntary work and stay with a host family, but I didn’t manage to find an opportunity for that.

So what is travelling all about? Is it about getting away from your normal life that includes work and education? Is it to meet new people and lay connections? Is it to relax? Is it to explore new places and challenge yourself by trying new things? I honestly don’t know. It made me think about the book Ecclesiastes in the Bible, written most likely by King Solomo. He wrote about the purpose of life and that the best way we can spend our lives is to try to enjoy our days, because everything else is meaningless.

This makes me think that it actually shouldn’t matter at all what other, or even most, travellers are looking for. I want to try to find my own way and to grow as a person. Maybe the lesson I need to learn, is to let go of my perfect image of how this trip should be and to let go of the pressure of doing things that others do. Life, bring me your lessons. I want to learn to enjoy.

Out of my comfort zone – Jane Austen

It has been a couple of days since my last post. That was not without a good reason: I travelled all the way to Indonesia and spent the past days trying to blend in. This is my second visit to Java, but since the first one was organised group travel, now I really feel like I am slowly stepping out of my comfort zone.

I am doing the same thing in the literary world by starting to read the books of Jane Austen. I have read some of the Classics already, for example books by Tolstoy or Dickens, but never by female authors for some reason. But a while ago, I thought it was really time to give it a try. I started with ‘Pride and prejudice’ (in German) and, surprise or not, I loved it. So today, on the train from Jakarta to Bandung, I started reading ‘Sense and sensibility’. The first chapters were already promising.

In the coming weeks I will be posting less frequently, but I hope to share some of my experiences here sometimes with all of you out there. So, we meet again soon!