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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Sisyphus


Sometime in grade school I dimly recall learning about Sisyphus. In case you may have forgotten, he was the king of Corinth who attempted to cheat death. Twice, Sisyphus evaded his fate, angering the Gods and wreaking havoc on earth and in the heavens until he finally succumbed. And what was his punishment? Rolling a giant boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again each time he finished—for eternity.

I have often joked that yard work at this time of year is a somewhat Sisyphean task—and this year is no different. While I have no deciduous trees on my property—all of my neighbors do, so depending on the prevailing winds I am greeted each day by a fresh batch of leaves. I could wait of course till they are all down. That would take about two months and it would be a monumental task to clean it all up, to say nothing of the censure I would face from those same neighbors who dutifully rake and clean all season long. My compromise is to address this task once or at most twice a week—no more. For a guy with more than a touch of OCD it took some work to get comfortable with this plan but I am determined.

In truth, I enjoy the cleanup. There is something satisfying in the work and it requires little thinking freeing my mind to dwell on more important matters. Besides, there is nothing wrong with a little fresh air and exercise on days when I am not at the gym. But I digress. I really wanted to talk about Sisyphus, and his desire to cheat death.

I think I can safely say that few of us contemplate the idea of our death with equanimity. We humans fear death, and the loss of someone we love is often bitter and painful. Yet there are those who do not fear death, they welcome it. To be clear I am not talking about sudden, violent, or untimely death—although what a timely death is I have yet to understand. I am talking about people who have lived their lives fully and well and, in the end, embrace their passage with something resembling joy. How is this possible?

As I have not personally known anyone who passed in this gentle way, I talked with some friends who did, who knew someone that was ready for death, had accepted its inevitability and awaited its coming. From all that I heard, these souls passed sweetly, with grace and, it would seem, confidence that their lives were not ceasing, but merely changing. I certainly hope I will feel this when my time comes. I suspect that these were very unusual people—although I have been told that up to the penultimate point they lived fully and were not in any way morbidly anticipating their demise.

It is curious, the names we have for death. Passing in particular is a different kind of word to use, suggesting not an end but a transition. For my part, I quite like the verse in 1st Corinthians: “death, where is thy victory, grave where is thy sting.” It is another way of saying that death is not final, it does not triumph over life, though it separates us from those we love. But even in this separation the verse implies there is no sting. Without being overly personal I can say that losing a loved one does sting, for a time. And while that loss is not something, I think we can ever fully forget, it does become something else, something better.

I do not know what others who have lost experienced. What I do know is that my own experience convinced me that I was still connected, still bound with those I had lost, and I fully expect that connection to persist when I pass from this life into whatever awaits. I do not expect to be pushing a great rock up a hill like Sisyphus. I expect joy such as I have never known. Whatever awaits us , if I go before you, I’ll have the answers. Look me up when you get there.


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