religion, sisyphus and me
Monday, July 27, 2020
An excerpt from a piece I wrote in 2011 for Souciant:
I spent several weeks during Xmas season in 1972 in Indiana, where I had lived in 1971-2. My friends and I would stay up until all hours, drinking wine and smoking weed, going on “adventures” like a trip to the supermarket to count the number of items containing garlic. One night, we were sitting around, probably high on some combination of things. I started talking about Camus’ Sisyphus, how he was condemned by the gods to push a rock up a mountain. When he got to the top, the rock rolled back down the mountain, followed by Sisyphus, who, when he reached the bottom, would once again push the rock up the mountain. This punishment was eternal. Sisyphus would perform his task forever, and would know as he performed it that he would be pushing that rock into eternity.
Something about the telling of that story got to me. I had a flash of insight, perhaps the only one I have ever experienced. I didn’t understand Camus intellectually. Rather, I connected in some visceral way. In that instant, I thought I understood the meaning of life in a deeper way than I ever had, before or since. We are all Sisyphus … this is the message that filled me with emotion far more than it filled me with an intelligent recognition of the facts.
I started to laugh.
I was always prone to giggle fits in those days (I’m still susceptible; perhaps we all are.) But this was not that; I was not giggling. No, I was laughing with awe and sadness at the wonderful absurdity of human life. We push the rock up the mountain, it rolls back down, we push it back up, indefinitely.
I am very suspicious when people say something changed their life. It seems to me that life-change is a process, that if we change at all, it takes a lot more than a moment, that it must be spurred on by more than just one event. And, in any case, I have no idea what was actually occurring as I rolled on the floor in uncontrollable laughter. But I do know that to this day, I think of my life in terms of what happened before that night, and what has happened since.
Of course, at the time, I wasn’t really thinking about what would happen down the road, or what the implications were for my laughter. But something happened that night, and whether I knew it then or not, part of that something was my spiritualism flying out the door.