At the beginning of last week I received a letter from a reader that brought me to tears. Without divulging the contents of the letter, I will say it helped to solidify beliefs I already held. The stories shared by the author were heartbreaking yet brought me a tinge of hope. The letter reaffirmed why I do what I do, and why I do sometimes like to “push the envelope,” I suppose. This certainly won’t be one of those instances, but I appreciate time for a little reflection.
First and foremost, life is absurd. I immediately thought of Albert Camus' “The Myth of Sisyphus.” Sisyphus was punished by the gods and was made to roll a rock up a mountain each day for eternity, for the rock to just roll back down to the bottom daily – when Sisyphus would then have to start all over and do it again the next day.
This always made me think of working in a department store, for some reason. The clerk folds the shirts (something I cannot do correctly for the life of me, so kudos to you who can fold a shirt and make it look nice) only to return the next day to a pile of mangled garments thanks to the shop's customers like myself, who can't put them back once it's decided it won't be purchased. Regardless, the clerk smiles to customers, greeting them and asking politely if they can help with anything. I always wonder if this is a front – and it probably is – but either way, the clerk has returned for another day of meaninglessness. I can't stand shopping, so I walk in, grab seven things at random that will probably fit, then pay and leave as soon as humanly possible.
Anyway, I find it odd the first thing I think about when contemplating the absurdity of life is a department store clerk but I suppose that's neither here nor there.
When Sisyphus is walking down the mountain, he becomes aware of his condition – that what he will spend eternity doing is futile and absurd – yet he still continues to push the rock back up the mountain each time it rolls back down.
Before the newspaper rolls out to you folks, I start with blank pages. Every day. Once the pages are filled with content, and it's sent to Borden Avenue for printing, it has to be moved from the forefront of my mind. I have 18 (or 16, 20, 22) blank pages to get ready for tomorrow. The same goes for surgeons (a procedure is performed on a patient, patient leaves, another comes in – with a different ailment, perhaps), lawyers (case closed just for another to come along), a custodian (maintaining restrooms day after day).
To return somewhat to the letter I received, the author has had life experiences I could only imagine, yet impressed me a great deal with his obvious insight and hindsight. While a number of various hardships were laid out, the individual clearly has a grasp on how to turn countless not-so-great experiences into something at least partially hopeful. It brought me a confused sense of sadness and simultaneous joy.
I was left remembering that this life is absolutely crazy. As individuals and the sole owners of our bodies, as humans we are given innumerable choices and opportunities. Each decision and action performed leads to the same ultimate end, which is of course death. However there is more to do here – however absurd it may be – than merely not dying. I'm reminded of Buddy Wakefield when he writes, “Remember, there is life after survival. It's learning how to live for a living,” … there's the tricky part.
The letter gave me hope that even those in less-than-desirable situations are not always left without drive or passion. There's always a mountain to climb and a rock to push, no matter where you start.
It is up to the individual to own up to whatever-it-is requiring ownership and accountability, and continue despite the circumstances.
I show up to work with a smile every morning – after at least one cup of piping hot black coffee, of course – and start pushing that rock. I love it. It's such a fun gig.
Not everyone is in the same boat, and I can absolutely appreciate that. I think of those incarcerated, who may have not hurt a soul except for their own. Those who have been confined to small room where hope for a fulfilled life is gone because of arbitrary rules on paper. Those who may sit remorseless for murders committed and those who regret poor decisions every day. There's always a rock to push.
I think of single mothers or fathers working hard to provide for their families. I also think of two young boys and their baby sister, living in an abandoned car on the hunt for food on a daily basis because their mother has peeled out and they don't know their father. (The latter is a scenario I have thought about in my brain since I was probably nine … the car is always a dingy rust color in my head, and it's a two-door, manual vehicle). Those parents and those kids … all continuing to choose to push rocks.
I appreciate the author of the letter taking the time out of his day to share his story.
It reminded me there is a universe in a drop of water.
With that said, Camus wrote, “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.”
What may seem like destitute circumstances or a horrible situation, there is joy to be found. Be it solely inside yourself, or something that is externally apparent, each of us is consciously choosing to live and that in itself is beautiful.
We've all got our rocks our push – and sometimes they're pretty darn heavy. But, Camus concludes with, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
And I do.
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