As I survived Sunday’s swim and it helped ease the pain, Tuesday morning, before work, found me at Manly pool again. The relief from pain and the metronomic effect of looking at the black line allowed my mind to wander. I started to think how this pool has been part of my life over a long period of time, through raising my children there, and recovering from various injuries. All of this was unplanned. I never intended Manly pool to be part of my life. It has been anyway.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon.
As a child, one of the first books I was given by a friend of my mother’s, was Greek Myths and Legends. It was a children’s picture and story book. Two stories stand out – one was the Minotaur and Theseus’s trick with the ball of string to get out of the labyrinth. The other was the legend of Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was the king of Corinth. He was punished for his boasting and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder, endlessly up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity.
Albert Camus, the French philosopher, believed Sisyphus personified the absurdity of human life. Nevertheless, Camus concluded that Sisyphus was probably happy as,
“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”
I don’t know if old Omar Khayyám ever met Sisyphus. Probably not as they lived several thousand year’s apart. Still I had a vision as I was swimming along. It’s the Arabian desert many years ago. A Persian traveller swings methodically along on his camel. Through the heat haze he spies a man toiling to push a large round boulder up a steep hill.
He reins in his camel and watches. The man, who from his dress appears to be Greek, rolls the boulder up the hill until it is almost at the top. Running out of strength, he falters and the rock rolls to the bottom where it comes to rest. The Greek walks to the bottom of the hill, wipes his brow, puts his shoulder to the rock and begins to roll it uphill again. This is repeated over and over.
The Persian hooshes his camel and dismounts. He walks to the base of the hill where the Greek is catching his breath, between rolls.
“G’day mate. I’m Omar Khayyám. That looks like hard work.”
“G’day Omar. Sisyphus. Pleased to meet you.” They shake hands.
“Why do you keep rolling that rock up to the top of the hill all the time? You never seem to make it.”
“Yeah, my mate Zeus reckoned I was a bit cunning and I had a big mouth so he banished me out here to push this rock up the hill. Then the bugger put a spell on the rock so that it always rolls away from me back down the hill.”
Omar was appalled that someone could be forced into an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration. He felt sorry for Sisyphus.
“Bugger me! That’s tough. Do you want to have a spell and I’ll push the boulder for awhile?” Omar offered.
“Bloody oath. Thanks, Omar. That would be great. My Mum comes out at lunchtime every day and we boil the billy and I stop for a sandwich. Other than that it’s a long day.”
So Omar Khayyám, poet, scholar, astronomer and scientist began the arduous task of rolling a large rock up and down a steep hill. He was soon bathed in sweat
“Crikey, what a repetitive, monotonous waste of time this is,” he thought. After several attempts he slumped down next to Sisyphus who was taking refuge in the shade of a palm tree.
“Mate, that’s hard work. I don’t know how you do it day after day and year after year.”
Sisyphus thought about this.
“It’s not so bad. Once you get used to it. I know every day when I get up what the day holds and I don’t have to make any decisions. I walk in the out door in the morning and out through the in door in the evening. It’s pretty predictable, which is kinda nice. No surprises. I dream about sitting on a Greek island with a pretty girl and drinking a Mango daiquiri but pushing a rock is what I do,” he said.
“That’s a very good line, ‘in though the out door.’ Do you mind if I use it?” Omar said. I’m getting material together for a long poem about the meaning of life. I’m going to call it the Rubáiyát and I’d like to use that line. The punters will love it.”
“Mate, fill your boots. You’re welcome to it. By the way what’s a Rubáiyát?
“It’s a Persian word for quatrain, a four-line, rhyming poetry stanza. I’m going to Baghdad on my camel to write it,” Omar said.
Sisyphus regarded the traveller.
“I can save you the trip. If you want to know the meaning of life I’ll tell you. It’s pushing a rock endlessly uphill in the noon-day sun, while you are dreaming of something else. That’s life.”
Just then they spotted another figure far off, trudging towards them, through the roiling heat haze.
“Hullo. Who’s this?” Sisyphus said.
“Bonjour mes amis,” the hiker said as he took off his backpack and slumped under the palm tree.
“My name’s Albert Camus and I come from France,” the new arrival said.
“What are you doing way out here without a camel?” Omar asked.
“I’m a philosopher. I’m looking for the meaning of life,” the Frenchman said.
“Me too! I’m a philosopher and I’m looking for the meaning of life,” Omar said excitedly. “I’m hoping to find it in Baghdad.”
Sisyphus rolled his eyes at this. He knew the answer already, after pushing a rock uphill every day for several thousand years, while simultaneously dreaming of how much better life on Santorini would be. Since Camus was going to Baghdad, Omar offered him a lift on his camel. They said their goodbyes to Sisyphus and Omar wooshed his camel up. Some dogs barked and they set off across the trackless desert at a leisurely pace. They looked back at the small figure trudging steadily uphill, his shoulder pushed resolutely into the boulder, in an endless quest for meaning.
“You know, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” Camus said, shaking his head.
“Damm, that’s a good line. I wonder if I could use that? If I don’t, I’m sure someone, someday, will run with it.” Omar thought.
I did 20 laps. My hand didn’t hurt. Also, despite using flippers and doing 1km, neither did my broken leg, like it did before. So thank you God. I appreciate that, I really do. This is my life.