Sunday, December 25, 2011

A tale for Christmas Day - a matter of choice

Sisyphus unbound

The hill was rugged and steep and the narrow path well worn, for the man with the stone had pushed his way uphill many times.  He was strong and muscular, with strong arms and legs, and he sweated as he pushed the stone higher and higher up the path towards the summit.  The days wore on as he struggled on alone, step by painful step, ever upwards, slowly but surely, inch by inch.  Within a few yards of the top he slipped, and his feet slithered on the wet ground.  The stone slipped from his grasp and it began a slow descent, gathering speed as it went.

This man Sisyphus had once been a king.  He was clever and used his wits to rule and he ruled well with an iron hand.  Yet when Death came to claim him he seemed to be powerless: what use his wits now?  However Sisyphus had already worked out a plan to cheat Death. Sisyphus left him chained to the wall at the gates of Hades in the chains that were designed for Sisyphus himself.

The price of this cunning was an endless, fruitless task, to try and push the stone uphill.  Sisyphus tried to move the stone alone for many years, but soon it was clear that without some help he would never do it.  He would never reach the top and never see the stone roll over the summit and down the other side, thus setting him free from the curse.  He knew he needed a friend, and the first friend he called upon was Hope.

“Just keep trying,” cried Hope, as Sisyphus strained to move the heavy stone.  “The summit is not far, and you are strong.  You can do this, never give up.  Keep hoping that tomorrow it will be better, that the stone will not seem to heavy and will move easily.  Soon your curse will be broken and you will be free.  Keep cheerful and keep believing that this can be done!”

With the help of Hope Sisyphus pushed to stone to the top with renewed strength, but again he slipped up and the stone rolled downwards into the valley with a great crash.  At the bottom Despair was waiting for him, as he always did, laughing.

“See how weak you are!” said Despair, in his dark crackling voice.  “You will never do it, you will be condemned to this fate for the rest of eternity.  And I will be here to watch you and laugh at your weakness.”

Sisyphus gathered his strength once more and refused to hear the cracking laughter from the valley but set his heart and mind upon that summit, so far away and so unreachable with the stony path ahead of him.

Half way up the mountain, with the stone already quite a good way up, Sisyphus called upon Love to help him place a wedge under the stone.  There on the mountainside with the stone still and firm and the path stretching out before and behind him, he rested and gathered his strength once more for the journey upwards.  And as he rested he heard voices calling to him.

“Run away!” cried Freedom.  “Do not try any more the stone is too big for you. Run now while you have the chance!”
“Stay here” said  “Responsibility.” This is your task and until it is completed you will never be freed of this curse.”
“You don’t have to do this, said Choice.” Things do not have to be this way.”

The chattering and arguing went on and on. Sisyphus tried to listen to them and hear their reasoning, and he applied all his own wits to try and solve the puzzle of what he must do next.  He took the wedge from under the stone but the stone slipped backwards and the wedge that Love had placed there was not strong enough to hold it there any longer.    

Sisyphus plodded slowly down the mountainside to meet Despair, who was laughing as usual.
“Listen to what I have to say”, said Despair.
 “You know that I will never listen to you!” cried Sisyphus.  “You sap all my strength and I cannot move the stone if I hear you.”

“But listen just this once” said Hope, who was standing by his side as usual. “You may be able to learn from him,” said Love, standing a little way off but near enough to be some encouragement.

So Sisyphus listened to Despair, and this is what he was told:  Death had been discussing with Despair in what ways Death might be released to do his work, and together they had created a bargain.  Despair said that Death would only tell Sisyphus of the bargain face to face and not through a messenger.

So leaving the stone behind him, Sisyphus went to the door of Hades, where Death was chained with the chains Sisyphus had placed there.
“Release me to do my work,” said Death, “and I will use these chains to help you to pull the stone up and over the hill. With these chains and my strength we can work together and soon your task will be done!”

But Sisyphus knew that once Death was unchained, his life would be once more in danger.  So he took the chains and fastened Death to the stone with them and told Death to help him to push the stone, but Despair came with them.  The derisory laughter of Despair and Death’s cold hand did little to spur him on.  His strength was so small and weak that the stone soon slipped back into the valley. He stood exhausted and watched as Death went rolling down the hill over and over and the chains wrapped tightly around him. Sisyphus could hear Despair laughing in triumph as always.

Sisyphus slumped down onto the path.  There below him in the valley was the stone with Death chained to it.  They lay together with Despair looking on.  Sisyphus stared at them for a long time.  He did not want to go so close to Death again.

Then he heard the voice of Choice calling him.  “Now it your chance to act, to set yourself free!”  And before him Choice revealed another path that he had not seen before.  It led into the unknown, but while Death lay in the valley chained to the stone, Sisyphus could now take this path and be free until Death caught up with him once more.

Looking neither at the unreachable summit of the mountain nor the familiar depths of despair, Sisyphus set out along the new path taking with him Hope and Love to help him on his way.

Happy Christmas!!

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