I learn my gratefulness and gratitude from Albert Camus and I “live to the point of tears.”
Albert Camus wrote enduring works such as The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus, and won the Nobel for Literature in 1957. His citation for the prize says “for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.”
When he got the prize he thanked an elementary-school teacher. “One could argue that, in the history of the field, few teacher-pupil relationships have had more dramatic impact than that of Louis Germain on his young pupil Albert Camus,” a Chicago Tribune article wrote.
The prize announcement happened soon after the publication of his unfinished autobiographical novel The First Man, a “classic story of a poor boy who made good” whose appendix includes the author’s real-life correspondence with his former teacher.
He was just 11-months-old when his father was killed in action during The Battle of the Marne; his mother was partially deaf and illiterate, she raised her boys in extreme poverty with the help of his heavy-handed grandmother. It was in school that Camus shone, due in no small part to the encouragement offered by his beloved teacher. Camus nonetheless never forgot that and when he got the first chance to express long-felt gratitude he wrote these sentences as brief and as powerful as many in his books:
19 November 1957
Dear Monsieur Germain,
I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honour, one I neither sought nor solicited.
But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened.
I don’t make too much of this sort of honour. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.