My childhood friend took his own life when I was fourteen years old. I walked every day to school with him, a one and a half block stroll along a street called African Road. I’d been out of touch with him for a few months – the summer was usually a hibernation period during my youth. He was only a block away from my opal colored home that resided on a wooded corner. I couldn’t distinguish the feeling that I had, but it was unpleasant and hauntingly vacant. I didn’t attend his funeral, which only compounded the vast amount of grief.
Then when I was twenty-one, one of my best friends ended his life shortly after I moved to Atlanta. We were neighbors in a small apartment complex in my hometown in Upstate, New York. We would have random days where we would forget all of our obligations, play guitar, chain smoke, and drink cheap beer. For us, we would chalk it up as the typical youth recklessness that reigns in suburban decay, but underneath we both knew there was a profound sense of melancholy and lack of self-control. This time, I returned home to attend his funeral.
It was there that I was face to face with suicide. I stared at my friend’s apartment door, wishing that I could knock on it, see his genuine smile, and to exchange our ritual hugs. I began to wonder if I was heading in the same direction. Everything felt grim and unfulfilling.
I returned to Atlanta unmoored. My thoughts were erratic, and my bad habits had picked up even more steam. I began calling out of my shifts so that I could cater to my vices alone in my bedroom. After calling out one of my shifts, I relocated a book, one given to me by my brother called “The Myth of Sisyphus” by Albert Camus. I was failing to do my duties as a writer, so reading fell out of my daily routine as well. One evening, I forced myself into the book that I knew nothing about, other than it was a series of essays. It’s short but denser than your average book.
Sisyphus is the Greek mythological God who was condemned for his duplicity. His punishment was pushing a boulder up a steep hill, only to watch it slide back down for eternity – such as life. I had no idea what to do with this knowledge before reading the book. Albert Camus opens by stating: “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”
An Algerian-French Camus wrote this in the aftermath of World War II in mind – a time where identities were destroyed, and nothingness prevailed. In dealing with my two losses, I was subconsciously searching for a meaning in life. Camus’s work guided me to a resolution, detailing the absurdity of searching for a purpose in life. Searching is exasperating and futile, but this statement doesn’t reflect life in a negative light. It’s a common misinterpretation associated with absurdism and existentialism, in general. It’s radiant, a sense of freedom opens up when you’re free from the burden of searching for the meaning of life when there may not be one.
Most importantly, Camus believes that suicide is one big misunderstanding – when the heart, and brain aren’t aligned with the absurdity of the world. He says we shouldn’t search for a further meaning in existence, andshouldn’t hope for an afterlife. We also shouldn’t try to comprehend the nonsensical world that we exist in.
Sisyphus is a supreme example of the devotion of life in Camus’s eyes. Sisyphus doesn’t ask what the meaning behind his labor is, but he pursues it regardless, understanding that it’s meaningless and not dwelling on the purposiveness of his duty. Camus pictures Sisyphus smiling as he’s pushing the rock up the hill, knowing that it will return to the bottom as it always does. But without missing a beat, Sisyphus returns to pushing the rock up the hill, understanding and being able to have a full awareness of the “futility” of life is a form of transcendence.
Of course, now, we know other factors play a role in suicide. There are days where I’ll re-read specific excerpts and think about my friends who have passed – wondering if I could have handed them this book and possibly saved their lives. I wish that it could have been, but it wasn’t – and I have made peace with that. This book has been my restoration. I read it after the long weeks when I don’t know what I am doing with my life. I read it after I lose someone. I read it to remind myself why it is that I wake up every morning with a smile upon my face, similar to the one on Sisyphus’s as he continues to never-ending task of pushing that momentous boulder up an unforgiving hill.