Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Ernie Banks and Existentialism

Yesterday was the 80th birthday of one of my heroes, Ernie Banks, the Hall of Fame shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. His nickname was Mr. Sunshine and everyday he would say "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame, let's play two." He wasn't playing in Los Angeles where everyday is a beautiful day for a ballgame, he was playing in Chicago. And it's not like the Cubs were winning, far far from it. But that was the point. Ernie Banks provided his own sunshine. Life is a joyful place, revel in it. In our success obsessed culture, it was about playing two. the point is to be playful, to love the process, life activities as an end and not a means.

We've got someone on campus today talking about existentialism, the early 20th century French movement in which life's meaninglessness gives rise to angst, anxiety, and fear. The lack of meaning puts the ultimate responsibility upon the shoulders of the individual to create his or her own meaning by acting, by doing, by unguided choices for which there are no, can be no helpful signposts. We create our own essence as an act of will. We choose to be who we decide to be by acting, by being that person. This responsibility, they argue, gives rise to intellectual trembling before its importance and emptiness.

Existentialism is dark, heavy, and brooding. Everything that is supposed to be the hallmark of a deep mind. But it seems that the embodiment of this existential being is not Camus' Sisyphus sneering at the Gods in contempt or his absurd murderer from The Stranger, but rather Mr. Sunshine. In the gray cold of early Chicago spring, he willed himself truly happy wanting to go out and possibly lose yet another double-header with his hapless Cubbies because, gosh dang it, he got to play. There is no dread in taking the field to likely be beaten yet again, instead there is playfulness, joy, and love of the game and life. THAT would be the true absurd hero.