I don’t remember its title or its author. I do recall that there was a character, or perhaps there were characters, who kept saying “etwas muss getan werden”—“something must be done.” You see, we read quite a few existentialist short stories in German IV in high school. There were so few of us left from the freshman intro all the way back in ninth grade that our teacher could put us right in the middle of German literature and have us read. I wish I still had that facility now. Although I can work my way through many languages academically (German, French, Spanish, Italian, and, of course, the dead languages of koine Greek, classical Hebrew, Ugaritic, and assorted other semitic dialects), the fluency of sitting down and just reading atrophied long ago. Still, etwas muss getan werden. That sense of anxiety feels like it’s permanent now.
Every now and again, when tensions are running high—this past week is an example—I find myself nervously checking online news sources frequently to see if anything dramatically good has happened. This gets to be almost a tic. I need to have some assurance that we’ve not become a dictatorship, or that there are those in power with enough humanity left inside them have tried to do something to make things better. Being a nation of throw-away people is ethically wrong no matter what scale you use. Skin color and national heritage do not lessen the worth of any human being. We can’t even get out to protest properly because a pandemic, which is still being mishandled, rages. The days are full of such sameness. Etwas muss getan werden. Please.
I wish I could remember the stories I read in high school. Some have stayed with me through the years. German class was my introduction to existentialism, a philosophy with which I still mostly identify. That was the reason I would pick up books by Kafka, Camus, and Dürrenmatt when I would find them in the once plentiful used book stores. I remember the latter’s Der Besuch der alten Dame. I recall seeing the play performed and being reminded that we are all players in a drama whose only sense comes from our assignment of the same. Now I sit inside on sunny days. Afraid of economic insecurity—who knows how long the jobs will hold out?—I don’t go to stores and try to order as little as possible online. I keep waiting for something to happen. As I learned in high school etwas muss getan werden, no matter where I read it.