The First Day

 

 

 

Before Sisyphus stood a mountain and a boulder, and he was compelled by the very gods to force the weight uphill. His body ached from years of pushing the rock.  His feet had calluses like tree bark, and his fingernails were cracked and bloody. Tired, sore, but not defeated, he looked around him.  It was silent, but for the watchful eyes of spirit-ravens who spied for their master Hades. He had no tools, no help, and very, very soon he must start to push the boulder again.

Divine magic written into his very spirit compelled him to push the boulder up and down the hill forever.   But Sisyphus was no fool.  He had tricked the god’s once, blatantly walking out of Hades to see his wife and getting many years of extra life in the process. The boulder was his punishment for such defiance.  Still, the lesson stood. The gods were not perfect, and progress could be made towards the impossible.

And so, every time Sisyphus pushed the boulder up the hill, his weathered and tough calluses scraped on the rock of the hill. With every step, muscles straining against the impossible weight, as he lifted up his foot he kicked slightly backwards.  And every time, he felt painful, faint abrasion as his calluses gripped the top layer of rock.

Once, after Sisyphus had escaped from Hades, he had been walking along a cliff overlooking the ocean.  The sun had been radiant, shining on foaming white caps far below.  It was the kind of day that made defying the gods all worth it.

Ahead of him had stood a man with a long white beard.  Sisyphus had introduced himself, and soon learned the man was a philosopher, traveling the land in search of wisdom.  They talked for many hours, over many different subjects.  Currently, however, one topic in particular stood out.

The philosopher had said,

“Imagine eternity.  Try to imagine a truly infinite length of time.  If it helps, consider this.   A small, immortal bird flies from one end of the world to the other.  The journey takes centuries, one little wing flap at a time.  As the bird gets to the end of the world, it spies a mountain, imposing itself high into the sky.  The mountain is made of granite, the very bones of the earth. The bird flies to the top of the mountain, and sharpens it’s beak once.  Then, it turns and flies back to where it started, taking centuries this time as well. The bird repeats this process again and again and again. When the mountain is only sand, worn away by the bird’s beak, then the first day of eternity will have passed.”

Sisyphus had thought this very clever, and soon moved on with his life.   It wasn’t until he had been given this boulder and mountain had he remembered that poor little bird.  Now, though, that bird was his reason to fight, to not give up hope no matter how much he hurt.

With a gasp, he stepped forward.  Rock slid under his foot, and the tiniest fraction of it became sand.  So it went.  As he looked down, he could already see faint grooves in the rock, from the boulder and feet.

Years passed, Sisyphus kept strong by the divine magic that enabled his compulsion.  He continued, up and down, never stopping, feet wearing the mountain down below him.

The change was so gradual that the spirit-ravens never reported anything to their master.  But in one small, isolated section of Hades, a mountain slowly became a hill, then a slope, and then finally a small bump in a sea of sand, the worn down rock having nowhere else to go.  The task became easier and easier as the rock wore down.  He still had to push the boulder, the compulsion that bound him was clear on that, but now his muscles relished the task.

 

Gone was the pain and futility.   Now he pushed the boulder along almost flat ground, an easy enough task.  He spent eons devising ever more intricate philosophical systems and wrote stories in the sand while ever so slowly pushing his boulder, content to erase them later and write something even better.

The magic that was supposed to keep him strong enough to push a boulder kept him hearty and hale, and he never suffered from old age or sickness. He was still trapped, still punished by the gods, never again to see the sun rise, but over the long years he had learned patience and humility. He had no pain, and infinite life. The first day of eternity had passed, and as Sisyphus looked around at the flat ground, he saw that was enough.  In the face of the second day, he could imagine himself happy.

 

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