Sunday, December 19, 2010

More of Sisyphus

Our imaginary reporter has only had three interviews with our antihero but one can sense that this is turning into a symbiotic relationship. At some point, we may find the reporter's life experience more real, so to speak, than that of Sisyphus. That remains to be seen. In the meantime, our as of yet unnamed journalist, probes the life and thought of the man with the rock. Let's listen.
Reporter: Morning!
S: [as he stretches and loosens up for the day] Oh! Hi. You're bright and early. Tell the truth, I wasn't sure you'd be back. But it's time to get the show on the road, so to speak. [He dislodges the rock and begins to push.]
R: I've been digging into your exploits and I'm beginning to understand why Zeus came down on you so hard.
S: Never said I was perfect. Learn anything interesting?
R: I want to know more about how you captured death. That's quite a story.
S: Not my finest hour. I'll tell you about it when I get this rock to the top of the hill.
R: About that. What would happen if, by chance, you ever did get the rock over the hill?
S: You'd never see me again, that's for sure. But fat chance of that ever happening.
[Sure enough, Sisyphus gives it all he's got and he does get the rock to the summit, but he is not able to get over and it rolls down. As the two start back down the hill, the conversation continues.]
R: About your little encounter with death.
S: Nothing little about it. I had gotten by all my life by cunning and deception so I figured that when Zeus condemned me to death no big deal, I could beat the rap. As it turned out, this was one situation I couldn't weasel my way out of. But I gave it a good try. Here's how it played out. The death god Thanatos came to take me to Hades. I knew it would do no good to try to run from him so I invited him in and prepared a meal for him. I offered him this one chair that I had rigged so that when he sat it in, these iron clamps would snap over his arms and legs. It worked, or so I thought.. I had him right where I wanted him. What I hadn't counted on was what happens no one could die. It wasn't all that bad 'cause folks quit fighting battles—there was no point since nobody could die. But you can just imagine the chaos it created. It was not a pretty picture.
R: What happened?
S: Well, Ares, the god of war, took personal offense and took it on himself to release death.
R: So that put you right back in the soup. Then what happened?
S: You're right. Looks like I'm headed for death and the underworld. Then I thought, you know, our culture puts a lot of stock in proper burials. So I convinced my wife that when I died to just throw my naked corpse out into the public square which she did. When I got to Hell, I looked up Persephone, the wife of Hades, I convinced her that since my wife had disrespected my body, I deserved the right to go back to scold my wife and have her give me a proper burial. She sneaked me out and I made it home.
R: Then what?
S: Well, when I got back to Corinth, I figured I had it made so I just picked up where I had left off before all this started. I was reinstated as King and life was good.
R: Until?
S: Zeus was furious! That was the final straw. He sent Hermes to drag me back to the underworld and that's when he condemned me to push this rock. And so, here we are.
R: So Zeus won!
S: Not exactly. No one escapes death, of course. The mortality rate among humans has always been and still is 100%. The only reason I am an exception is that Zeus thought futile labor was worse than death itself.
R: So, as I said, Zeus won.
S: Not really. If you haven't already, you need to read Viktor Frankl's “Man's Search for Meaning.” Frankl survived four or five concentration camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. He lost everyone and everything he held dear. When he was liberated he literally had nothing but his naked body. Frankl says that to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. His question to people who are about to give up on life is, “Why do you not commit suicide?” which is to suggest that one should look for those things, however small, that give one meaning. Each one must find purpose, often in the midst of senseless suffering, and accept whatever responsibility is required.
R: And the rock. Is it your judgment or your purpose?
S: Both. And it's why Zeus hasn't won. I have no power to remove the rock or the freedom to stop pushing it, but I can decide how I'm going to feel about it.
R: That's why Camus calls you the absurd hero. I'll have to think about that.
S: I thought you would. See you next week.

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