‘So I went from day to day…’

Sisyphean.

It’s an awesome word.

Comes from a Greek mythological tradition about a hubristic king who set himself against the gods.  Thought he was better than them.  Trickier than them.

In various stories he got the best of Zeus, Thanatos, Hades and Persephone. The big guy on Olympus, DEATH himself and the king and queen of the Underworld.  He cheated death, escaped from Tartarus AND suspended death for ALL humans while Thanatos (or Hades) was chained in his place.

Not too shabby for a human.

As punishment for his puckish self-interest, Sisyphus had to eternally roll a huge boulder up a steep slope, never reaching the top- since the boulder would always roll down just as he was reaching the pinnacle.

An ETERNITY of frustration.  For challenging the gods.

Working against their will and their declared order of things.

Just like Prometheus. And Azazel.

But since Sisyphus was fully human, his punishment was meant to be even more cautionary- warning against striving too hard for the things that are beyond us.  And suggesting that making the gods look silly was not likely to end well.

The myth of Sisyphus has been interpreted as being about (among other things) the futility of the struggle for knowledge, the absurdity of human life, the emptiness of the quest for power and anything that a person might love and hold onto too much.

Pythia, the infallible Delphic Oracle, notes that “in experiments that test how workers respond when the meaning of their task is diminished, the test condition is referred to as the Sisyphusian condition. The two main conclusions of the experiment are that people work harder when their work seems more meaningful, and that people underestimate the relationship between meaning and motivation.”

(okay, that really came from Wikipedia.  I never met Pythia)

The first time I listened to Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill, I was dealing with the death of a friend of mine- far too young to have been taken suddenly and randomly.

Then, the lyrics seemed to be about gracious Death (Thanatos), coming to gently claim someone and take him home where he belongs.

I soon learned, of course, that the song was about Peter’s decision to leave Genesis and strike out on his own.  He had wrestled with the repetitive ruts, the fading into the background, and purposelessness of his situation, realizing that the known, the stagnant, wasn’t actually the freedom it seemed to be.

He let the boulder roll away and was able to reach the flat top of the hill and the reassurance that his change in direction was the right one- the one that would bring meaning back into his life and work.

‘Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
“Son,” he said “Grab your things,
I’ve come to take you home.”

To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
Tho’ my life was in a rut
‘Till I thought of what I’d say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” he said “Grab your things
I’ve come to take you home.”
(Back home.)

When illusion spin her net
I’m never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me
Today I don’t need a replacement
I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” I said “You can keep my things,
They’ve come to take me home.”‘

Wisdom imparted through example and a beautiful song.

Now if I can just figure out exactly how to stop being so damn Sisyphean…

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