In the Greek myth of Sisyphus, Zeus condemns a man who reveals one of the god’s secrets to spend eternity rolling a boulder to the top of a mountain, only to see it tumble back down again.
Sisyphus is not to be pitied, however, says Albert Camus in his essay built on the myth. Far from it. “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill [one’s] heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
How could such a fate bring anything like happiness?
When life’s circumstances are relatively normal, we’re free to preoccupy ourselves with ordinary things: a child’s distressing report card, an expected pay raise that failed to come through, a landlord who won’t keep the hallways clean. In those times we busy ourselves by negotiating, tweaking, and striving as best we can.
But when truly hard times seize us, as they have now under the assault of the coronavirus, and real grief and real terror fill our hearts, then our focus shifts. We have no choice but to get behind our rock and shove, because, like Sisyphus, our whole being depends upon it.
At such times a new determination to prevail grabs hold of us. We have faced the truth and given up trying to make sense of it. Forced to abandon all our plans, we must live as best we can from day to day or, if that’s too much, from moment to moment. We face our fear and vulnerability. We do our best to acknowledge that there is no guarantee of safety or even survival, but we also know that absolutely nothing can stop us from shoving with all our might against the despair and hopelessness that would press us down. We open ourselves to finding and making beauty a dozen times a day. And in this new acceptance of reality, something even greater than happiness pierces our hearts.
What we feel is joy.