Sisyphus Wises Up
The name Sisyphus may not strike a chord with you but almost every maturing adult will know and identify with the story of the man who is condemned by Zeus to push a rock to the top of the hill only to have it roll back down for eternity.
I met Sisyphus, so to speak, when I returned from the Korean War, at a time when I was not sure that life had any real meaning but when I was also looking for hope. A professor introduced me to The Myth of Sisyphus, recently published by Albert Camus. I was intrigued by the fact that Sisyphus found no meaning in life but was unwilling to completely give up—to commit suicide. Sisyphus continued to live with me, and several years ago, I began an internal dialogue with him. I created a reporter and gave him access to Hades in order to interview Sisyphus, who I also imagined had the ability to observe the world as it now is.
I have always found it interesting that while Sisyphus found no meaning in life he never complained and never seriously contemplated suicide. There is strength and integrity in that. I found that admirable. Now in my later years I've decided to challenge Zeus's power to keep Sisyphus chained, so to speak, to the rock and give him a chance at hope beyond. With apologies to Camus, this is how I imagine it.
Unbeknownst to Sisyphus, all the time he had been struggling with his rock, Eleos, the Greek Goddess of compassion, had been watching him from her vantage point at Mt. Olympus. After years of watching, she decided to defy Zeus and help Sisyphus if, indeed, he wanted to be rid of the rock. There was just one problem with this decision. If she really wanted to enter Hades and interact with Sisyphus, she would have to become human and give up her goddess status. That's just the way it is because that's the way I have written it.
Her decision made, here's what happened. One morning as Sisyphus woke and was getting ready to push his rock, he noticed a tent had been erected at the bottom of the hill. Curious, he ambled over to where a woman was busy setting up a coffee bar. She greeted him and said, “Hey, I know you're on a tight schedule but the coffee is just about ready and I've got an idea I think you will find interesting.”
“I'll take the coffee; what's on your mind?”
“Here's the deal. My name is Eleos. I've been watching you all the time you've been pushing that rock. I have to say that I'm impressed that you've made your peace with the whole rock thing and I know you think that life is essentially meaningless, but what if I told you that I am willing to help you push the rock over the top, if you're interested. That's a serious question because I know some folks don't really want to give up their burdens, even if they may say otherwise."
Sisyphus was skeptical of the idea but was willing to give it a try. So when they had finished their coffee, Eleos put away the coffee cups. They approached the rock and started off up the hill together. Sisyphus would push the rock by himself until he felt he had to let go off the rock. At that point, Eleos would step in and help.
They didn't talk much at first as each was considering what this decision would make in their life. Sisyphus thought sure, he would be glad to be rid of that infernal rock, but he had gotten used to dealing with it and did he really want to give it up for the unknown? He thought, "Am I really up to life without it? Do I really need Eleos' help? Maybe this time I'll be able to get the rock to the top by myself. Why is she really doing this? This is the first time anyone has ever offered to actually help me. Am I worth all this?"
While Sisyphus was pondering these things, Eleos was thinking of what the decision to become human in order to help Sisyphus meant for her. She had given up all the power and prestige of being a goddess. She knew she could never go back. She thought, "Was I too hasty in trying to help Sisyphus? Is this really necessary and should I have intruded?"
Meanwhile, the hill was getting steeper. Sisyphus began to give out. He called for Eleos to help. Together they struggled until they were within a few feet of the summit. With their last bits of strength, together they pushed as hard as they could. The rock moved ever so slowly to the summit where it tottered for a bit and then settled on the top of the hill!
Now before them loomed a large bottomless chasm. Eleos found a smooth rock ledge and invited Sisyphus to sit with her. Sisyphus said, "In a moment, but first I have to get rid of this.” He walked over, got behind the rock and with one more push sent it bouncing down the hill and into the chasm. Then he joined Eleos on the ledge.
Eleos asked, "What did the rock mean to you?"
"More than anything else, I think, it represents my regrets, my guilt," Sisyphus answerd.
They sat there in silence for a long time until Sisyphus whispered, "Captive no longer!”
Eleos responded, “No longer a goddess. What now?”
As they stared in silence at the chasm, they felt a soft breeze and then from the wind came a voice, “I am beyond. Stand up!”
Eleos exclaims, “What is that?”
Sisyphus answers, “I've heard that voice before but it has been a long time ago. I thought if I ignored it, it would go away. Some say it is the voice of God, others say it is the Voice of Love. Maybe they both are right.”
Eleos thinks before responding. “Well, what do you say? Are you ready for a surprise?”
They stand up.
Will Sisyphus and Eleos assume new names, new identities to face their future? I am turning the story over to you at this point. If you choose, you can answer those questions and more. Since it will be your story, anything you come up with will be right. I would like to know what you come up with. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org