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Archive for December, 2005

THE ONLY REAL CHOICE

“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight.” So begins Albert Camus’ famous retelling of the Myth of Sisyphus [1]. It is not a story for children.

Sisyphus had loved life too much, and had scorned the arbitrary power of the gods. In the afterlife, he did not escape their wrath. Camus recounts in detail the misery of the situation – the endless futile effort of Sisyphus, wrestling the rock to the mountaintop, and the forbidding conditions in which this effort has to be made.

Camus asks us to realize that the tragedy of the situation centers in the fact that Sisyphus knows his reality.

In fully seeing his situation, he also knows fully his losses, and the reasons he has to feel grief. Among his losses is any hope for reasonableness concerning his condition. Sense cannot be made of it. It is absurd.

This is the climax of the story, the hidden surprise: upon realizing the absurdity of the situation, Sisyphus discovers his freedom. Camus concludes, “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” To some, this statement itself may seem absurd. Perhaps they should reconsider.

WHERE WE BEGIN: It’s not about YOU

I have often told my friends, my clients, and myself at times – struggling with challenges that appear far too large, while too much alone with discouragement: It is not about you – your suffering, your hurt, your loss and grief. Look at it closely and you’ll see that it is a rock that fell out of the sky. Sense cannot be made of it. It is merely the point at which we begin. We start here, and we go forward.

This is the only real choice, and the one thing about absurd situations which can make sense and stand up to reason – the decision to be alive and aware and struggling. In this we are all the same, as not one of us escapes the boulder, the mountain, and the arbitrary wrath of the gods. All know the full grief of existence, in the fullness of time.

We believe, and on good basis, that we have more hope for our situation than Sisyphus, but I don’t think it is possible to have more hope for ourselves. Past the point where there is any hope at all for changing circumstances, he, and we, can still have all that matters, if we will but take it. We are free, at the moment we grasp the nature of our reality. We are not our situation, but something else altogether.

NOTE

[1] See Camus, A. (1942). Le Mythe de Sisyphe. Librairie Gallimard. Published in the United States in 1955 as The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. New York: Knopf. (Albert Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.)

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