Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happiness is Absurd and Vice Versa

In Greek mythology, the gods condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.

Sisyphus, what a complicated soul, destined to toil, day in day out, rolling that heavy bolder to the top, only to watch it fall down again, knowing he would open his eyes the next day and face the same fate. Was he a laborer, feeling as if he ended each day no further ahead or did he find a divine enlightenment in his quest to shoulder to boulder on his shoulder, to prove he was able to harness his strength to defeat the expectations of punishment bestowed upon him?  Did he win? Did he prove them wrong by sheer willpower?

If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals. Homer goes on and on as to the reasons why Sisyphus became the futile laborer of the underworld. There is espionage, kidnappings, bargaining, deceit and so forth. Homer reported that Sisyphus, the conqueror, had managed to put Death in chains. But Pluto intervened, sending the god of war, who liberated Death from the hands of the conqueror.

This did not stop "the Conqueror" from riding high on his reputation.  He proceeded to get himself all caught up in love and jealousy and shit until he created an insidious test for his wife to prove her love for him. Uh yeah, that didn't work out so well;  so hello, he found himself once again in the underworld. Then he got like totally pissed off by the lack of human love so he obtained permission from Pluto (who is not even a planet anymore) to return to earth for the explicit purpose of chastising his wife.

Lesson I am still learning:  Never allow yourself to operate out of anger, bitterness or revenge.

But alas, once on earth, he enjoyed the water and sun, warm stones and the sea and he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness. He lived for many years facing the curve of the gulf, the unpredictable sea and the predictable cycles of the earth. The god's became angry and a decree was in order.  Mercury would seize the imprudent man, literally by the collar, leading him back to his station at the bottom of the mountain with a heavy rock awaiting him.

It is well believed Sisyphus was a hero as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. Or is it? Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them. As for this myth, it is said one sees merely the whole effort of a body straining to raise the huge stone, to roll it and push it up a slope a hundred times over; one sees the face screwed up, the cheek tight against the stone, the shoulder bracing the clay-covered mass, the foot wedging it, the fresh start with arms outstretched, the wholly human security of two earth-clotted hands.

At the very end of his long effort measured by depth without time, the purpose is achieved. Much like the feeling I have when I am rushing to get my kids out the door in the morning; the toil, the sameness and the insanity of it all.  At the end of the evening when the fucking enormous rock rolls back down, I have to ask myself, do we really need to discuss why we put our pajamas on every single night? I have to get up tomorrow because I need to push an enormous boulder back up a mountain. Have a little respect for that and just do what I say..........okay?

One must be careful though for a face that toils so close to stones could become stone itself (which obviously makes me think of Botox, even though it is not relative to this posting whatsoever.)  One must be superior, or at the very least, equal to his fate and stronger than his rock. For fate, stones, boulders, daily mindless tasks are meant to make us overcome our obstacles and live our truth.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus writes. "When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy rises in man's heart: this is the rock's victory, this is the rock itself. The boundless grief is too heavy to bear. These are our nights of Gethsemane. But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged. Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism. One does not discover the absurd without attempting to write a manual of happiness. Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd discovery. It happens as well that the feeling of the absurd springs from happiness."

It resonates with me, these images of earth, these imagined ideas of what I am  supposed to be doing today, just today, just roll that rock and keep on rolling but then I realize the very idea of that is truly insane.  My third eye, the one that can truly see, cannot see past the daily toil to realize why I have been given, nay blessed, with these particular toils.

My kids were recently told by their dad that the bible says God only punishes "those he loves the most". To which his mom, their Grandma nudged him, and laughingly replied, "then God must REALLY, REALLY love your daddy".  Needless to say, I have had some difficulty processing that philosophy.  Where is the accountability for the crime he committed? 

Going a step further, dad tells them of a grand life they will live when he gets out of prison.  He will buy land and begin farming, organic farming nonetheless.  He will purchase a house up north for hunting and fishing.  How will he do this with no money, a felon, convicted of stealing from an employer?  Is it just more of the same, his endless stream of unrealistic consciousness,or will someone step in to help him.  Probably the same people who have refused to offer any help or assistance to his kids while he is away.

The only time he provided was when he succumbed to  a desk job. That was his great burden.

As you can see, I am still working on the bitterness and resentment part but unlike the past, when I have these thoughts, they are quickly dismissed.  I no longer allow myself to wallow in the stress or struggle against the tide for the great boulder has been placed upon my shoulders, and mine alone.  I will carry it, push it, attempt to beat the hell out of it, or find another way around it to survive.   

Caymus goes on to write, ".. there is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that silent pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death."

"I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Honestly, as I write this, I understand why Sisyphus was happy.  He took the long road.  He wasn't afraid to work hard each and every day.  He didn't desire a shortcut to luxury or wealth the way my children's father did in his pattern of shirking the burden of responsibility, relying on his mom to bail him out and basking in that cross generational bondage that held him to his mother when she desperately clung to the one child she believed would make good.

But in a hairpin turn, with no nod to proper segue whatsoever, I praise my time with him for we bore three beautiful souls, the very ones I am privileged enough to struggle with each and every day and I know, beyond time and depth or depth and time that MY fate was created by me.  

How appropriate I should sit in front of Oklahoma City's sculpture of Sisyphus with my children, feeling futile, knowing hopeless is or could be but a day or perhaps an hour away, if I let it. But these are my greatest gifts, missing my eldest, but with us in spirit. It is an absurd happiness in the midst of the happiest absurdity I could possibly imagine. Can you see it?

The four of us in Oklahoma City, missing #1 Son, in front of Sisyphus.

What a sight it is.

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