Tonight I walk under the cold winter wind with Chico. Chico has a haircut from his surgery that makes him look like he has pompoms on, or is a go-go dancer or something. It makes me laugh and I don’t think he understands why. He prances down the street like he owns the world anyways. Another semester has passed. I am grading papers and feeling that slip of the boulder. I had a strange dream the other night of Chico falling from a bridge I was repairing. My father and I were sleeping on this bridge after a long day of repairing it. A looming steel bridge with a large moving river below. Something out of the Frank Church or the Middle Fork. We sleep on the edge of this broken bridge, the grates of steel allowing us to almost feel like we fly above the river canyon. I wake in the morning to the distant sound of the river below, I look over and Chico is sleeping half hanging over the edge of the bridge. I am afraid to startle him awake and I try to gently move towards him, but when I move he lifts his eyes open and slips off the bridge. I watch his body as it kites in the wind falling and I yell one of those gut wrenching loss wails from a mixture of deep in your bowels and up beyond your own head and out into the galaxy like your scream is searching for the existence of god in the universe, or some hope of divinity, and I watch him splash into the water, back first, his legs up in the air.
I run down the bridge, jumping down stairs, yelling to my dad to wake up and help, help, help and I run down flights after flight until I get to a lower road below, start to run for the banks, but then run back and jump off a cliff, diving into the water below. I swim towards Chico and find him, he is pulling himself up out of the water, whimpering as he crawls out onto a sandy beach. I hope he will be OK as I wake washed in sadness in my bed. Ugh...a dream, and I lay my hand on Chico, call him a good boy, he rolls over exposing his big belly. I pet for a while until I hear him fall back asleep and I do the same.
That feeling of Chico slipping from the bridge must feel how the boulder rolls back off of Sisyphus’ hands. The first one must have been devastating. That first boulder he walks to the top, struggled, clawing the boulder forwards, leveraging up over cracks, and around trees, across streams. Sisyphus put his back into the boulder until his hands knew every off center point--did the gods taunt him when he stopped to rest, when he thought about his family, when he thought about his wife, his kids, and maybe even his dog...did the gods taunt him that if he could just get the boulder to the top he will be free.
And so he did. He pushed and grinded, and shoved, and rolled that boulder up out of the valley up to the very top of the mountain peaks; through thunderstorms and downpours, in the bright beating sun to the dark moonless nights where Orion’s eternal pursuit is best understood, he could hear the voices of those he loved in his ears at each break. He wants to give up, but he refuses to give in. He figures he has to prove to the gods that he won’t be broken. He is just about to the top of the mountain when he slips, he thinks it is nothing, just one time the boulder rocked to the left instead of the right, and he leaps to try and stop its momentum, and he jumps in front of it and braces his shoulder for the impact, but it just plows into him and lauches him sideways as it begins to bounce, then jump and tumble down the mountain. The breaking rock sound echoing off the canyon walls; it crashes through the forest below. He yells for it, in pain of loss of a loved one; that boulder was all he left behind, all he wanted back, but he refuses to quit that too, and he gets up, glances to the summit so close, and then turns to walk back down to get the boulder.
No, it would be the second time that you would fully understand the eternity the laid in front of you, the toil and loss over and over again. The second time would crush you because you would understand the reality of your fate. I love that he doesn’t give up. Surely, as the years go by he would realize that his wife had passed away, his kids grown up and parents, and grandkids, and great grandkids, and his name would begin to fade from them too. And when his own kids had surely passed, he was still pushing a boulder up a mountain. When everyone forgot him, he keeps pushing. I think this is why Camus says that he comes to understand that the struggle is enough... he says, the struggle is enough to fill a man’s heart.
It is the end of another semester...I am struggling to get through the grading, but always amazed at these students.