Monday, January 3, 2011

Sisyphus #5*
(Since I have no idea how long we're going to be hearing from Sisyphus, I will simply assign a sequential number to each episode.)

[ed. Note: Albert Camus once wrote “Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them.” I find the story of Sisyphus interesting in itself but it becomes much more when one's imagination takes hold of the story. If Sisyphus can find any meaning in his eternal task of pushing the rock to the top of the hill, perhaps you and I can find hope in our much less dramatic situations. I encourage you to release your imagination and come along as the reporter talks to the old man.]

Sisyphus is warming up for his task when the reporter shows up.
S: What you got there?
R: I brought a six-pack of Rolling Rock beer. Thought it might make the trip back down more fun.
S: Cute. Still, not a bad idea. What do you have for me to think about while I work on this rock?
R: I've been thinking about this whole hero thing. Camus called you an absurd hero and I'm still working on that. And maybe this is not the same thing, but I remember someone saying one time that heroes are victims of circumstance.
S: Oh? [That's about as much as Sisyphus can say while pushing the rock.]
R: Max told me that he was stationed in Taegu, Korea during the so-called Forgotten War. He was part of the Army's Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG). He remembers talking to a young corporal about his age, coming through on his way to a combat unit up near the 38th parallel. The soldier was back at Taegu less than a month later—on his way home. He was now a Master Sergeant and had been awarded the Purple Heart and a medal for heroism. Just about everyone in his unit had been killed. When Max said he told him that he had never met a real hero before, the new Master Sergeant told him
that heroes are victims of circumstance.
S: [grunts] Choice.
R: I know. My mother often told me that there would be times when things happened over which I had no control but that I could always control my reaction to them. The young corporal, now a Master Sergeant could have just given up or run away.
I remember the story of a Norwegian farmer during WWII whose home was occupied by the Nazis. The Officer in Charge told the farmer that he would be his servant, prepare his meals, wash his uniforms, polish his boots, etc.. The farmer did all that without a word. But when the Allies liberated the area and arrested the Nazi Major and as he was being taken away, the farmer walked over to the Nazi, looked him in the eye and said, “No!”

[After one more futile effort to push the rock over the mountain, Sisyphus lets out a long sigh, the reporter opens a couple of beers and as they start back down, Sisyphus has his say.]
S: I would agree that the young Corporal/Master Sergeant and the farmer are good examples of heroism. But so is the conscientious objector whose commitment to non-violence prevents him from fighting but who is willing to serve his country and who is willing to face the consequences of his position. Then there is the 84-year-old widow who has inoperable cancer and has not family to support her but refuses to see herself as a victim. And there is the 17-year-old young woman who has been fighting cancer for years who now faces amputation of her leg. Rather than give up, she has decided to rise above it all and chart a new course for her life. These people are not victims of circumstance.
R: What makes the difference?
S: I'm suspicious of simple answers but I think it's the ability to find purpose, if not in whatever is happening, at least in spite of the situation.
R: You didn't exactly roll over and play dead in your battle with Zeus.
S: I tried everything I could to resist death. I think there's something pathological, in most cases, about someone wanting to die. Unless, of course, they are facing a devastating alternative.
But once it was clear that there is absolutely nothing I could do to escape this rock, I not only passively accepted it, I embraced it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
R: That will give my readers something to think about. That will have to do for the time being, we're back at the bottom and it's time for me to get back to the office and write this up. See you next time.
S: I'll be here. Thanks for the beer.

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