I return to the story of Sisyphus because I can think of no ancient myth more alive for us today.
I even found a version of this myth in the comic strip “Hagar the Horrible”.
According to the Greeks…
…Sisyphus is condemned to roll a heavy stone up a mountain each and every day…
…only to see the stone roll all the way back down when he reaches the mountain top.
In Albert Camus’ existential version of the tale…
…Sisyphus takes responsibility for his fate and, in that way banishes the gods and makes of his torment a joy.
Well, I’m all for taking responsibility—no matter what befalls me. What could be more futile than cursing the gods? However, I think we need to go beyond Camus.
Camus’ Sisyphus still sees his situation as absurd—he knows the stone will keep rolling back down. A torment that is a joy is still a torment. I can accept torment—after all, I’m a writer…
…but I want to know that I’m benefiting from my troubles. Therein lies my joy.
So in my version, Sisyphus gains, becomes stronger—grows. Is this just wishful thinking? That’s a good question to ask—in myth, we want to be truthful, not delusional.
Well, looking back at my life so far, I can see so much gain—I keep rolling the stone, but in the process, I’m developing myself. I see a desire within me—a hunger—to learn, to grow in this way, in this way of the stone.
Thus, in my version, Sisyphus can’t wait for the morning, when he can again start at the bottom. He knows he’s not actually starting over, at the beginning.
Since he’s grown through pushing the stone, since he has more perspective, the bottom would be at the base of another, higher mountain.
In that light, I offer this poem for possible inclusion in our new mythology:
A BETTER SISYPHUS
I present myself as an exhibit
of a necessary human hunger—
even though this hunger nearly kills us—
kills me. I fight not to be eaten alive
by my hunger.
this goat in me
has goaded me
higher than I ever
could have imagined—
back into—deep into—
those hungry black mountains
to try to satisfy
my hunger—a hunger
for something that
I do not know
try to discover
if it actually
Blind, I touch and in touching, know–
know every round stone
as part of my foundation–
know every cave I find to be a kiln.
Alone, in my quiet lifting, I come to realize
how every mundane moment surfeits me.
All those tedious steps–
I love them, one by one.
So I’m not disappointed
that I still feel hungry
when I reach the mountain top—
no, I can hardly wait for Morning
when I start back at the bottom—
but the bottom of a higher mountain–
because by keeping to this climb
I feed my driving hunger.
© 2011, Michael R. Patton
(for more musings on Sisyphus see June 29, 2009 entry)