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  • Amen to that! A great word of lexiconic economy.

    July 31, 2011

  • When I was growing up, the last thing any self-respecting boy or tomboy wanted to be called was "sissy." Now you can't say that Sisyphus, the historical figure from whom we get this term, is a sissy in any sense, so forget about any associations along those lines. The guy spends all his time pushing a large boulder up a hill and chasing it back down to the bottom. That has to be even better exercise than you can get on a stairmaster, much less with an abdominizer. On the other hand, you have to wonder about someone who would keep at it, for eternity no less. After a while, you would think he would realize that he is never going to get the stupid stone to stay at the top. Why not head for a bar or some other venue where he can show off his muscles?

    The truth is that he can't. One reason the concept of sisyphian tasks sticks with us is that it is not so uncommon to find ourselves in such situations. Even when we can see what is happening, we cannot seem to extricate ourselves from the situation, or, perhaps more commonly, the responsibility is one we cannot seem to put aside. If you ever find yourself in such circumstances, you might want to reflect on old Sisyphus's story, because it may offer a solution as well as solace.

    You see, most people forget why it is that he got stuck with this job, that is, if you ever knew in the first place. Usually, you hear that he tried to cheat Zeus. Well, yes, that is true, but the one he really cheated was Death. Zeus sent Death out to get Sisyphus, who was, by all accounts, quite a trickster in his time, and Sisyphus first captured Death and then hid from him. Believe me, such acts did not go unpunished back in those days. So king or not, and rumor has it that Sisyphus was a king (and father of Odysseus to boot, which should account for something) Sisyphus got stuck with the stone. Since the task was to be eternal, we can assume that he is pushing it still. My point is, however, that this punishment came becase he was unwilling to accept death.

    Is there a lesson here? One might speculate that when one seems to be caught up in a sisyphian task, that it is because one is unwilling to let go of some sense of identity, some "life" as it were. In order to live, we must accept death, or we will be bound in an eternal circle without purpose.

    July 11, 2009