Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sisyphusian Moments

Albert Camus points to the myth of Sisyphus as a metaphor for the human condition. For angering the gods, Sisyphus was condemned to roll a massive boulder up a mountain for all of eternity. What makes this tragic, Camus points out, is not not the continuous hard labor, not the futility of all work, but the fact that as Sisyphus gets the boulder to the top it rolls back down and every time, Sisyphus must trudge down the hill to the boulder fully aware of the futility of the act he now faces. It is not the task itself, but the break where he must approach the task wherein we find the tragedy.

The Gettysburg College women's lacrosse team has made it to the NCAA division III semi-finals against Cortland State, a game scheduled for next Sunday when the college holds its commencement ceremony. Since the three graduating seniors on the team will be unable to attend, the college held a special graduation ceremony for them on Monday and asked me to be the faculty speaker.

In speaking to these graduating seniors, I reflected on the life's lessons I learned as a lacrosse goalie and I realized that lacrosse goalies have their own Sisyphusian moment. Whenever there is a goal scored, everything stops because the ball is in the goal. nothing can happen until it is taken out. So, whenever you get beat on a shot -- whether it was a shot you should have saved or not -- everyone in the stadium, everyone on the field, everyone on the benches, all stare at the goalie as he turns around, rakes the ball out of the net and flips it to the ref. In your failure, you are forced to face that long moment where you are the focus of all attention and must act to get it all started again. In the games where you are getting clobbered, it repeats and repeats and repeats, each time knowing that despite your best efforts, you will likely again be turning around with all eyes upon you.

This is, of course, not limited to Greek mythic figures and lacrosse goalies. Back before everyone had e-mail, when grades were posted on sheets outside of professors' doors at the end of semester, in classes you knew you bombed, that long Sisyphusian walk was something students knew.

Anyone think of other Sisyphusian moments in other parts of life?