Welcome to Sisyphusville

The boys of summer are doing their thing. This is the season when thoughts turn to our national pastime. Not in this house. I have been thinking about Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus since my vision once again headed south and walking north toward home became such a hike. Maybe this just tells you how weird I really am. The famous essay introduces a philosophy of the absurd. Why would a man of many illnesses see the world as absurd?
A poor guy is condemned to push a boulder up a mountain and watches in horror as the rock slides down the incline again. The next day, he gets to do it again. This becomes perpetual motion. Sounds like a familiar pattern to me. Every time I visit the neurologist, I am pushing that boulder up to the fourth floor. All I can think is, look out below.
Camus wrote of man’s futile search for meaning. I am with him on this one. What does an ugly illness add to the debate? Meaning? I do not think so. The man seeks clarity in the face of an unintelligible world. Clarity. Right. The author compares the absurdity of life to the situation of Sisyphus, a figure who won a larger role in Greek mythology than he probably bargained for.
I feel as if I have been cast as Sisyphus, and I am not even making minimum. I will bet you do, too. I asked my friend Merriam Webster to clarify absurdism for me. He told me it is “a philosophy based on the belief that the universe is irrational and meaningless and that the search for order brings the individual into conflict with the universe. Well, good morning.
I made an existential turn here. I have decided to stop caring so much, as if something good will grow from this. Life is absurd, not to mention arbitrary. Nothing makes sense. Due process in real life does not exist. I am not going to stop going through the motions. Burt do not ask me to believe. My expectation level has been shattered. I am lowering the bar. It is my way of holding onto sanity. I can do this. I am being true to myself. I gave up Santa Clause and survived. I know the faith community will take issue with this. I respect them. That is their right. But I have been on the roller coaster for too long, and I am feeling queasy.

30 Responses to Welcome to Sisyphusville

  1. Mark June 27, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    Are you having an existential crisis? Didn’t Socrates say something about tending your soul? It is okay…let ‘er rip. It feels good. I do the same thing. But here is a true story for you. I bumped into a neighbor the other day and I complained about my legs not working. He told me how he lost his wife and sister to breast cancer. His brother died of a heart attack. Worst of all…ready for this…he lost his first son to leukemia. He looked at me and said if all I did was complain about this, I would have no friends. MS is very challenging to live with. But we are alive. Life is not fair. But we are here to complain about it. I’ll take that.

    • A.H. June 27, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

      Mark June 27, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

      Are you having an existential crisis? Didn’t Socrates say something about tending your soul? It is okay…let ‘er rip. It feels good. I do the same thing. But here is a true story for you. I bumped into a neighbor the other day and I complained about my legs not working. He told me how he lost his wife and sister to breast cancer. His brother died of a heart attack. Worst of all…ready for this…he lost his first son to leukemia. He looked at me and said if all I did was complain about this, I would have no friends. MS is very challenging to live with. But we are alive. Life is not fair. But we are here to complain about it. I’ll take that.

      • Mark June 28, 2014 at 6:44 am #

        Thank you! I forgot

      • Richard M. Cohen June 28, 2014 at 7:50 am #

        Of course you are right. I was bathing in self-indulgence. Consider what those people in Meredith’s show went through. I broke my own rule. Look around you.

        Best,
        R.

  2. Christopher June 27, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

    It’s interesting that you picked Sisyphus as an avatar for the MS. Sisyphus was also a sly deceiver and a capricious murderer, content on keeping an iron grip on his kingdom. Sounds like MS to me. Then the punishment most definitely fits the crime–it’s maddening in its futility at escape from a ridiculous situation. Sisyphus didn’t want to push the boulder… he had to push the boulder up the hill every day. I think this is an awesome diversion from the other blog posts–you definitely have a writer’s mind, sir. Perhaps I could humbly make a suggestion for further reading, while you are at this point of facing this absurdity from a little different perspective? Or anyone else who may be interested in great stories with great questions?

    Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. It’s an interesting dialogue on what we accept in common can change in huge ways just from a different perspective.

    • Richard M. Cohen June 28, 2014 at 8:04 am #

      Thank you for the suggestion. I wil read on. I am interested in the many facets of Sisyphus. Once I learned to spell his name, he became a natural. I am a fan of Camus. I long have attributed one of my favorite quotes to hio. “Not to decide is to decide.” Unfortunately, Harvey Cox owns that wisdom.

  3. Linda Lazarus June 27, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    Campus’s interpretation showed Sisyphus winning because he could think freely. So, the joy of the mind is the reward for continuing on. And so it goes.

  4. Louise June 27, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

    Most people feel like sysyphus sometimes, I think. You have at least escaped life with a mind numbing 40 hour a week job, repeating and repeating. I have too but suffer this disease. I realize many people work an unfulfilling job and have chronic disease too. And I,you and they are all first world,

    • Richard M. Cohen June 28, 2014 at 8:05 am #

      And goes and goes.

  5. MimiNOLA June 28, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    I recently read somewhere that wallowing is good for mental health. Then I am Hercules of mental health.

  6. Sandy June 28, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    This is one of those situations where I would redefine the situation according to my rationalization/denial continuum.

    First, does the rock really need to go up the hill? Can i just leave it there and plant some flowers around it? Maybe a little table cloth, lawn chairs and some crackers and cheese (hey, I am from Wisconsin) and a couple of beers. Make the rock part of MY world. Hopefully its in the shade and I can turn my back on the hill.

    My favorite saying I use to describe my MS is “Its like chess….but I am a checkers girl.” MS tries to make everything in my life difficult…like chess. Constant maneuvering and strategy beyond reason. I like the simplicity of checkers.

    • A.H. June 28, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

      Sandy June 28, 2014 at 10:04 am #

      This is one of those situations where I would redefine the situation according to my rationalization/denial continuum.

      First, does the rock really need to go up the hill? Can i just leave it there and plant some flowers around it? Maybe a little table cloth, lawn chairs and some crackers and cheese (hey, I am from Wisconsin) and a couple of beers. Make the rock part of MY world. Hopefully its in the shade and I can turn my back on the hill.

      My favorite saying I use to describe my MS is “Its like chess….but I am a checkers girl.” MS tries to make everything in my life difficult…like chess. Constant maneuvering and strategy beyond reason. I like the simplicity of checkers.

    • cohen June 28, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

      Checkers it is.

  7. Yvonne June 28, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Thank you for reminding me of this philosophical analogy. My brain only fires on one cylinder these days so many thoughts and teachings reside in the gray area and are not easily accessed. Another reason to appreciate this blog, awakenings. I enjoyed your perspective.

    • Yvonne June 28, 2014 at 11:10 am #

      Oops, gray area….memory. Forgot to bold

      • cohen June 28, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

        That’s OK. Got it.

    • A.H. June 28, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

      Yvonne June 28, 2014 at 11:07 am #

      Thank you for reminding me of this philosophical analogy. My brain only fires on one cylinder these days so many thoughts and teachings reside in the gray area and are not easily accessed. Another reason to appreciate this blog, awakenings. I enjoyed your perspective.

  8. cohen June 28, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

    Go for it.

  9. Elizabeth June 28, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

    I am so sorry for your loss Richard and Meredith. As I anticipate losing my mother to

    an aggressive rare form of cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) at the age of 76, it is

    hard enough to see her body fail, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for your

    family with Meredith’s brother having early Alzheimer’s. Her special was terrific yet

    heartbreaking. I will end my day thinking I am luckier than Hannah’s

    parents. One step at a time, right? I’m catching up to your blog. I’m a year

    diagnosed and mad as hell. I hope to learn from the community here. Thank you.

    • cohen June 29, 2014 at 6:20 pm #

      Thanks.

      R.

  10. Mm June 29, 2014 at 2:46 am #

    I am pretty much on board with absurdism as a coping mechanism. It’s quite freeing. Good things happen to bad people, there’s no such thing as karma etc.

    • cohen June 29, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

      I agree. I am not giving up. Just going with the flow.

      R.

  11. Annan June 30, 2014 at 7:37 am #

    I am 59, living with PPMS. I agree with life and illness as absurdity 110%. Really, really all that matters is this moment. Sounds cliche but I am living it right now.

    My struggles, my rocks, my hills are not special or unique. I cry, I get mad, so what. Then I laugh, laugh and cry, hug someone if I can. Now that’s something.

    The past and the future hold no power at this moment. All my accomplishments, degrees, resume items, as well as my plans, dreams, hopes— fade in the moment and have no meaning. Even the great loves of my life are fleeting. We love, then become a memory. If memory even holds.

    But this moment- me at my laptop writing this to be shared with click of a button– now this is a miracle. Not unique but wonderful because I can share. We are here reading words together. Even if it’s hard. I am grateful. Thank you Richard.

    • A.H. June 30, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

      Annan June 30, 2014 at 7:37 am #

      I am 59, living with PPMS. I agree with life and illness as absurdity 110%. Really, really all that matters is this moment. Sounds cliche but I am living it right now.

      My struggles, my rocks, my hills are not special or unique. I cry, I get mad, so what. Then I laugh, laugh and cry, hug someone if I can. Now that’s something.

      The past and the future hold no power at this moment. All my accomplishments, degrees, resume items, as well as my plans, dreams, hopes— fade in the moment and have no meaning. Even the great loves of my life are fleeting. We love, then become a memory. If memory even holds.

      But this moment- me at my laptop writing this to be shared with click of a button– now this is a miracle. Not unique but wonderful because I can share. We are here reading words together. Even if it’s hard. I am grateful. Thank you Richard.

      • Annan Paterson July 1, 2014 at 2:03 am #

        Thanks AH

  12. Annan June 30, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    p.s. tried to do Bold but not sure how to do…hope you can read.

  13. jane June 30, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    New (2 weeks) to your blog and am truly inspired. Your analogy reminds me of a song I keep playing on my tablet. Heard it on car radio and had to come in and listen some more. Utube has several versions with words and music. A 1979 song from Kansas called “Dust in the Wind”. My favorite line is ” all your money won’t another minute buy”.
    It’s not really depressing just very realistic.
    Keep writing as you are truly great!

    • cohen July 1, 2014 at 8:08 am #

      I know the song. How about The Beatles, “All your wealth won’t buy you health.””

  14. Mary July 1, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    Richard, I have long admired your honesty about living with MS. Your ranting and writing serves to show others the real story about a difficult reality. We need more space for conversation about tough subjects. Owning it allows us to talk about it which then allows us to process it and discover what it has to teach us. Your journey has allowed many to see the need for how the world needs to change to accommodate special situations.
    Continue to share and make us aware.

  15. David Thompson July 7, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    I genuinely appreciate your use of the word “absurd” in describing this ridiculous condition. It is my go to tag for MS. Ten years ago I knew so very little about the disease. Not that I didn’t care- it just wasn’t a presence in my world. My head was full of family, community and career. Now that I find myself in a power wheelchair, limited (physically) and no longer drawing a bi-weekly paycheck I spend more time in thought and in trying to absorb the thoughts of others by reading more often.
    “Absurd” is still an often used part of daily conversations; but “hope” still finds it’s place in my daily vocabulary. However, even though the scientific journals are not bursting with daily promise, we just never know when a twenty-first century Professor Newton is going to sit under an apple tree and scratch his head.