Monday, January 31, 2011

Sisyphus #9

[Whatever else you may say about Sisyphus, the wily mortal from Greek mythology managed to die an old man. Was he as bad as some say or just extremely clever, or a little bit of both? You'll have to decide that yourself. And did the gods get him in the end—after all he can't escape his punishment? He has to keep pushing that rock, with no end in sight. By the way, the rock he's saddled with is the size of Zeus and he was a big man, er' god. How's that for irony? Here's another question only you can answer: How much of yourself do you see in Sisyphus? In the meantime, let's listen in on another interview our imaginary reporter is conducting with our hero, or is it antihero?]

Reporter: [arriving out of breath as Sisyphus starts to push his rock] Sorry I'm running late. Traffic.

Sisyphus: No big deal, but I've got to get going. I have to wonder what you find so interesting that you keep coming back for more interviews.

R: [He talks as the old man pushes his rock.] I guess I never told you the whole story about how I got here. It was mostly an accident. I was over at my editor's house one night. We were sharing a bottle of wine and both of us were in a reflective mood. She's getting up in years, must be at least seventy-five and she's had a pretty full life, but she was wondering if it has all been worth it. I shared my feeling that, at forty-two, I've been running about a quart low on idealism and energy and it doesn't look like I'm ever going to get that Pulitzer. That's when she remembered your story. We talked about it and after I left her house, I went for a run. I jumped onto the shoulder of the road to avoid a car and stumbled, rolled down the embankment, and passed out. When I woke up I was in the underworld, saw you, and decided to try to interview you. I thought people of all ages would identify with you and I was right. You're a pretty interesting guy. So, here I am. [By this time, Sisyphus has tried, and failed, to push the rock over the hill and they are walking back down.] You're awfully quiet.

S: I was thinking about the first time Sir Edmund Hillary tried to climb Mt. Everest. He didn't make it but he said, “I'll be back; mountains don't grow, men do.” Actually he was wrong about that. Mt. Everest does grow a few inches every year. But that's not the point. Hillary did return and he did climb the mountain. And, of course, he felt good about it. It's not the same thing, of course, but I feel good about pushing my rock even though I know I'll never get it over the hill. The gods didn't understand that one could feel good about such things - but that's their problem. I've learned that there really is joy in the work itself.

R: That makes some kind of sense to me. I think about the racial conflicts in today's world and how every time we think we have solved the problem, it crops up again. One has to find satisfaction, if not joy, in the effort. That may not be what you are talking about but it's enough to keep me going.
S: If you want to build a bridge, you develop a plan, locate the materials, build it, and it's done. When you have people beating up on each other because they're different, you set up programs to help people learn about the other group and you pass and enforce laws to protect the innocent and you think that takes care of that. But it doesn't. Not that you shouldn't do all that, but it's never over. So you learn to stay the course and to persevere. It's not that you don't want the problem to be solved once and for all, but that's just not the way it pans out. So you learn to find satisfaction in giving it your best and let someone else keep score, so to speak.

R: Like pushing a rock.

S: Speaking of which, we're back at the bottom of the hill and my rock's waiting.

R: See you next Monday?

S: I'll be here.

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