Finding the Silver Lining to a Challenging 2020: What Albert Camus’s Allegory Taught Me
2020 is nearly over. It will be remembered because of the Coronavirus outbreak — the number of deaths that ensued, the isolation we all had to endure under lockdown rules and the wearing of face masks. Not to mention the sad death of “the hug”.
I know governments have had to be draconian to save lives, but I can’t help but feel that in becoming socially distant, we have also become emotionally distant too. It’s as if we are all under house arrest living in some kind of future dystopian world order, akin to the world of 1984 as predicted by George Orwell so many years ago.
My life during 2020 felt like Groundhog Day — I rise early, read, write, go to work, back from work, exercise, eat dinner, watch some Netflix and sleep. It’s the same sequence of events day after day. After a while, this feeling of repetition has slowly eaten away at me. I feel like a robot; joyless, aimless with little room for anything stimulating.
I’ve been luckier than most during the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit the whole world. In that Ghana has had it milder than other countries, as lockdown only lasted for a month.
Nevertheless, there is something that had been ebbing away at my inside until finally, I succumbed to flu and fatigue that put me in bed for a few days. As usual, my body seems to be way ahead of my mind in giving me insights.
During those couple of days, I felt low and empty, a feeling which is often a precursor to me falling into a deep funk. I journaled, reflected and read a lot, which led me to the work of Albert Camus, the French philosopher who helped me make sense of my plight.
In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus, using an allegory explains that life is meaningless and absurd but nonetheless should be taken as a challenge. Sisyphus, the King of Corinth, is punished by Zeus, the god of Gods for his wickedness and deceit. He is sentenced to an eternal punishment of rolling a boulder up a hill in the depth of Hades, the underworld, only for the boulder to roll back down again.
However, Sisyphus finds happiness to the Gods ire when he achieves his goal of rolling up the boulder while standing at the top of the hill, be it momentary. He has accepted his fate, embraced the daily challenge and thrived towards that fleeting flash of happiness. Camus ends the essay with, “The struggle itself … is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Like most human beings, I can’t keep doing, doing and doing without a sense of purpose. What sets us apart from animals is that sense of meaning we imbue in our actions.
Consciously or unconsciously, we always need to know ‘why.’ It is that ‘why’ that gives us hope to withstand the struggle of life. And without hope, we would just wither away like the most beautiful rose hidden in the dark.
Let’s not fool ourselves: the Covid-19 pandemic has been a real disaster from the loss of lives to financial suffering. However, the hope that we all cling to is that this is all temporary. Like many other disasters before it, ‘this too shall pass.’
Perhaps 2020 needs to be removed from our achievements calendar and instead let’s remember it for the lessons we learned, because light shines brightest in darkness.
In slowing down and not drowning in the noise of my own life — troubles at work, societal pressures and meetings and/or deadlines — I’ve become calmer and more content without any expectations or responsibilities. It’s like I’ve pressed pause but this time around, there are fewer consequences for doing so.
Throughout the past few months, my phone has hardly rung. There were few urgent emails to respond to and even fewer people to deal with. Everyone has been busy with their own lives. At work, there are no requests from suppliers for payments. There are no extra charges by banks to contest. No tasks to chalk off. No goals to achieve.
There are fewer responsibilities bearing on my shoulders.
There are less expectations.
There are no distractions.
There is rather a sense of freedom that I’ve lacked for many years.
I feel light, more mindful of the world and me in the world. I’m reminded that I’m nothing but a speck of cosmic dust. All these shadows we chase aren’t that important.
Suddenly what seemed urgent becomes less so. Instead, what becomes important is family, friendships, health, joy, helping others, the Universe’s health. These values have shone through to become my core priorities.
Today, I can look Zeus in the eye, thank him for sending us this virus and vow to be happy during the struggle to overcome it.
Because when I looked beyond the struggle, I realised that the Virus had come bearing some gifts with it, if only I’m ready to accept them.