Between the wake of living and the insensibility of death: the experience of now

It’s an old and familiar trope; as a young man, it would enrage me.

Picture it: an old person, who is tired of living, decides that they are ready to die. Then, they close their eyes and die, as if the matter was decided in that moment — probably after some important milestone had passed and some important wisdom had been imparted.

The decision itself to die is not, I think, the key issue. Death as the ultimate sacrifice, in the name of some higher principle or for the benefit of some other person, has always tickled my adolescent fancy. Likewise, for as long as I can remember, I have always thought suicide to be an appropriate response to a cruel and terminal illness, even if it isn’t the choice I would make for myself.

I think the trope enraged me because it eulogized a decision to acquiesce to death’s inevitable and final ushering for no other reason than the old person’s indifference to life. The old person could live longer; they simply choose not to because they don’t much see the point in living any longer. It seemed to me to be the ultimate betrayal of the very idea of life, in all of its stubborn glory. Death is not an undiscovered country; it is an insensibility to be resisted at all costs until the very moment of consumption and consummation.

However, now that I have made it to middle age, I have found that the trope no longer enrages me. The decision to acquiesce to death, however unpalatable such acquiescence  may be to me, even seems to make sense, once the nature of lived experience is rightly understood.

When I was younger, lived experience seemed much more concrete and enduring, even after it had already been lost under the wake of living, because the amount of lived experience I could remember seemed to be much more than the experience I had forgotten. Sure, I couldn’t remember every detail of waking life but, on the whole, it felt like my experiences lived on with me in my memories.

At forty-five, however, the ledger of memories and lived experience is not at all balanced. I have undeniably forgotten much more of my life than I can now remember. I can no longer pretend otherwise: experience is gone forever once it is lived and our very fallible and fleeting memories can’t preserve or resurrect it. In terms of the experience of lived experience, the only difference between living and death is that the now of living is experienced and the now of death is not. The past is as unknowable as the future, whatever the fantasy of memory might otherwise try to tell us.

Now that this insight has taken root, it has become much easier for me to imagine a time when I will be able to look forward into death and look back onto life and not really see that much difference in terms of the experience of lived experience. As a young person, the experience of now was a supernova that illuminated all horizons; today, it is a star bright enough for me to look back with fondness and forward with anticipation, despite the shadows growing all around me; looking out towards 80 or 90 (and, hopefully, 100 or 120), it is very easy to imagine that the experience of now might feel like a pale dim light in a universe of nothing stretching in all directions. If that is the case, persistence for the sake of persistence might not seem to really add or subtract from the final ledger; and acquiescence to an insensible future might not seem so different from an attachment to the insensible past. Maybe, just maybe, I will also be ready to close my eyes and slip away quietly.

But, let me say this now! If some future Sterling starts nattering on about going gently into that good night, he is a rogue and a fraud! Here me now and believe me later: attach every machine, do all the surgeries, and give me every drug; do whatever it takes to keep my faint ember of consciousness aglow, no matter the suffering I may endure. I expect future Sterling will feel the same; however, because younger Sterling would probably be enraged at my defence of the enraging trope, I shall err on the side of caution: let my will today bind his then. If future Sterling ever loses sight of the faint ember of his experience in the engulfing insensibility of past and future, give him a stiff rum or two and send him to bed. I’m sure he will be fine in the morning. He’s probably just had a bad day. Plus, if he has got to go, he will probably want to go quietly in his own bed, enveloped in  a nice light glow.

A Dangerous Pillow Thought: There’s No Experience Like It

PeekaBrutalIt happened at the exact moment you wouldn’t want it to happen.

My head had hit the pillow with a determined, if groggy, purpose. I had had a productive day at work. I had been to the gym. For the first time in a long time, I had worked on editing a video, and, in doing so, I had reminded myself of how much I enjoyed the craft of it. I had earned, and was ready for, an easy drift into the unknown comfort of sleep. I was determined to make it so.

Instead, as soon as my head hit the pillow, my mind, which had been foggy with sleep mere minutes before, raced off into parts unknown. Of those wild wanderings, of the paths taken and the sights seen, I am now sure of only one port of call. I found myself reminiscing about one of my heart bursting teenaged crushes, which had, of course, gone uncommunicated and unrequited. A crush from whom I had received my first wedding invitation.

And then it happened.

I’m not sure if it happened because of the bittersweet remembrances of the sublime joy of teenage angst or if it was caused by some other wild wandering now forgotten. Whatever the cause, I had the very thought any sensible person should avoid while waiting in the dark of night for sleep.

I will not experience death. Death, as inevitable as it may be, is not a subjective experience. All that I am shall end and I won’t even know it. Death is a certainty we will never know.

If you have never reflected on this inevitable outcome of life and if you have never come to understood its implications deep in the resonating well of your soul, don’t worry, it’s not impossible to describe. There is always a sense of perfect clarity, which is perceptual, emotional, and conceptual. You, the world, everything looks and feels sharp, defined, and profoundly immanent. It is as if the unreal, which is a gauzy mediation between experience and understanding, is simply no longer there. The experience, not unlike one’s first encounter with HDTV, is more real than real. Inevitably the mammalian survival instinct kicks in, triggering a dread-filled and heart-racing panic, as it fights and flights in all directions at once.

Or so I thought.

This time, another instinct kicked in and prevailed. Fearing the long restless night that was sure to follow the adrenalized flight from death’s certainty, some part of me resisted the easy slide into fear and trembling. Instead, I perched on the precipice between understanding and dread and I experienced the clarity of understanding, as if from a distance, without slipping into the heart racing panic. After a moment of unexpected teetering, I turned my attention to sleep and somehow managed to slip away into it.

Because the experience had happened so close to sleep, I might have forgotten it, like a dream. Instead, the very next day, I had another confrontation with the nonexperience of death at the most unexpected of moments.

The winter night had already comfortably settled itself, when I emerged into it. The air was cool, fresh, and crisp. Directly in front of me, a tall tower of office lights thrust into the sharply defined night, drawing my spirit up and away along its solitary axis. Perhaps it was the abrupt shift from the cloistered and artificial light of the office into the wide open clarity of the winter night; or, perhaps, it was a return of the repressed experience of the previous night. Either way, once more, that sharp clarity of understanding, which is so often triggered by a deep understanding of one’s own mortality, reframed all aspects of my experience. Fortunately, I remembered that it was possible to step back from the easy descent into fear and trembling. I did, and I walked for a few minutes in the clear beauty of a world framed by the knowledge that my experience of it would inevitably be no more.

In reflecting on both experiences, I realized that death is only one of the many unknowable non-experiences that exist beyond the frame of living. Life itself, once experienced, disappears forever beyond the event horizon of memory. Philosophers sometimes wonder what it might be like to be a bat, but now I wonder what it might be like to have been myself. Although I once experienced being five, fifteen, and twenty-five, in the same way that I won’t experience what it is like not to be, I can’t experience again what I was. Our memories are not objective snapshots retrieved from pristine archives, they are reconstructions made in the here and now. Memories of your past experience are profoundly shaped by your present experience and everything that made it just so. The inclination that one can directly access past experience through memory is as mistaken as the inclination that death itself will be experienced.

It was once said to me on Twitter that the fear of death diminishes with age. I didn’t believe it then, but, now, after my recent experience, I am more inclined to believe it. It isn’t so much that the fear is gone, but my reaction to it has changed. Perhaps the same part of our brain that tames our adolescent risk-taking also tames our metaphysical risk-taking, and maybe they are both variations on the same theme.

We are, it seems, experiencing beings that are surrounded on all sides by oblivion. It is only a trick of the brain that lets us think otherwise. Dying is a fact of life but death isn’t. Life, I think, becomes an end in itself only when we understand and accept that it would otherwise only be a means to death.

And that, for me, is beautiful.

The Living or the Dying: Who Should We Trust?

WinterTreesWhat truly matters in life?

The dying and almost dead seem always to offer the same answer. The living seem always to offer the wrong answer.

Or do they? Why should we be so inclined to take the word of the dying over the living?

In the face of death, we are capable of unspeakable betrayals, crimes, and self-delusion. Perhaps, it is the living who have the luxury of wisdom, while the dying and almost dead have only the poverty of imprudence.

To further complicate matters, the brain remembers very differently than it experiences. With a few tricks of timing and intensity, the remembering brain can be tricked into choosing for itself one of two experiences which is objectively worse than the other. Are we experiencing or remembering, when we face death? Is it a remembering that demands an experiencing or an experiencing that necessarily diminishes what is remembered? In our final months, days, and minutes, what tricks of timing and intensity might be affecting our judgement?  

Admittedly, there are many far-from-dying sages who have offered the same answer to the question of what truly matters as the dying and almost dead offer, but these answers are motivated by a deep understanding of the fact that we are all dying. Birds of a feather flock, cherish, and die together.   

So, who should we trust? The vanities of the living seem pointless to the dying. The myopia of the dying seems pointless to the living. The answer to this final question lies, I think, in an experience shared by both the living and the dying — the sated joy of being in the presence of the wide open being of the very young.

The very young are a direct connection to the divine pleasure of a wide open, loving, and enchanted being that we know we experienced but can’t remember directly, a being which is too easily lost in the wind chasing that we learn to call living because we are so afraid of dying. The living and the dying both learn in the incandescence of the very young all that matters in life. The dying, however, don’t have the time to forget the lesson over and over again.

Happy New Year.

 

Death Is The Only Consideration: Be Moral Because You Are Moral.

MoralityDeath, I’ve come to realize, is the only consideration. No reason for action survives its event horizon. Without immortality, a rational justification of morality, in the long term, is impossible.

Tomorrow, for example, I could choose to devote my life to the health and well-being of all other humans or, perhaps, only those most in need. Once I die, however, whatever good I experienced (and whatever hardships I endured because of my virtuous behaviour) dies with me. The people I helped will also one day die, and whatever good or hardship they experienced will die with them too.

Alternatively, I could choose to devote my life to harming all other humans or, perhaps, only those most deserving of such treatment. Once I die, however, whatever hardship I experienced (and whatever good I might have experienced thanks to my vicious behaviour) dies with me. The people I harmed will also one day die, and whatever good or hardship they experienced will die with them too.

Good and evil, hardship and suffering, virtue and vice, they are experienced and do not exist or perpetuate beyond those who experience it. We, of course, create conditions that will have an effect on future generations, but, even so, those effects will die with those generations too.

Effectively, on a long enough timeline, all our actions — moral or immoral — are inconsequential because they and their effects cease to be experienced. The total amount of happiness or suffering generated is inconsequential. The total amount of virtue or vice inculcated is inconsequential. The number of times people acted or did not act in accordance with a universal moral law is inconsequential. Even coming to understand or not understand the full meaning of death is inconsequential. It’s an experience like any other. It also won’t survive death.

Our genetic material, of course, will likely survive much longer than the effects of our actions. Nevertheless, even if we become self-consciously Darwinian, acting only in those ways that maximize the safe transmission of our genetic material, it does not seem likely that the species or its ancestors will survive forever. It’s theoretically possible, but it is too thin and tenuous a possibility upon which to build anything like a rational morality.   

I am, nevertheless, not terribly concerned by my revelation. I am moral or immoral because of an unknowable causal history over which I have exercised almost no control. Understanding that there is no rational justification for moral or immoral behaviour — really, any behaviour at all — seems unlikely to affect how I behave. At most, it may affect how I assess my behaviour and the behaviour of others. For me, it seems a bit silly to feel high and mighty about choices that weren’t made by me but, instead, have happened to me. Of course, that assessment is probably but one more happening that has arisen from the loose anarchical confederacy of environmental interactions for which my conscious mind takes credit.

I am reminded of a story I read in Zen Speaks. A doctor faces an existential crisis because he can’t see the point of practicing medicine when he inconsequentially saves the lives of soldiers who go on to die in battle. Whether in war or peace, death is the final end of all medicine. A doctor, at best, delays the inevitable, so why bother? The doctor returns to his battlefield medicine when he realizes that he practices medicine precisely because he is a doctor.

The universe is neither rational nor irrational, even if we humans have developed a rationality with which to make sense of it. Likewise, morality is neither rational nor irrational, even if moral behaviour has helped us to evolve into creatures capable of rationality. Rationality, I think, requires us to accept that there may be no rational justification for some of our most fundamental behaviour.

So, why be moral? Because you are.

The Bucket List: Human, All Too Human

HumanReasonA bucket list is the purest form of human irrationality.

Why?

Because it is a list of desired experiences drawn up in the name of the very thing that will eradicate the relevance of those experiences to the person who desires them. All experiences, good or bad, too few or too many, are leveled to nothing in death.

Moreover, once death comes, the length of one’s life is also leveled to nothing. Whether death happens now or forty years from now, once dead, it will make no difference to the dead.

And, yet, I can’t reason myself to choose or accept death. Reason tells me that death’s leveling wake reduces life to irrelevancy, but some part of me chooses life over and over again. Irrationally, I want to live as long as possible and accumulate as many meaningful experiences as possible.

That means, I suppose, I’m not as inhuman as I sometimes think I am.

Sunlight, A Play in One Act

Sunlight combines text, improvisation, a dumbshow, and movement in order to craft an original and unexpected response to a reality we face each and everyday: the minute-by-minute choice between a life of distraction and a life of attentiveness.

Although it is very much a work of theatre, it can also be described as a kind of dance piece in which the characters’ dialogue act as the dancer’s accompaniment. Together, the dance and the dialogue pose the question, “How can I be happy”. Refreshingly, the play provides a simple and direct answer.

Click here for the PDF.

For more of my plays, click here.


Oubliette (Co-written with Sam Varteniuk)

The stage is divided by a wire fence about six feet high and six feet wide.  It is perpendicular to the audience.  To one side of the fence, SISYPHUS rolls a large rock up an incline. The labour is easy and he is not upset by it.  Once the rock is rolled to the top, he turns and walks down the incline.  The rock rolls down.  He rolls the rock up the hill again.  The rock rolls down again.  He rolls the rock up the hill again.  This goes on for a while.  Then, MAN enters on the other side of the fence.  He watches SISYPHUS for a while.

MAN
Hi.

SISYPHUS does not hear.

Hello!

SISYPHUS
Oh. Hi.

MAN
Hard work.

SISYPHUS
Sorry?

MAN
That looks like hard work.

SISYPHUS
It is.

MAN
I suppose someone has to do it.

SISYPHUS
I do.

MAN
Yes I suppose you do.

MAN watches SISYPHUS for a while.

It doesn’t look like very exciting work.

SISYPHUS
It’s all right.

MAN
It must be boring

SISYPHUS
I guess.

MAN
Yes. It must be.

SISYPHUS
It has merits.

MAN
Merits?

SISYPHUS
Sure. Hard work always does.

MAN
For example.

SISYPHUS
It’s good exercise.

MAN
Yes, but this is so repetitive.

SISYPHUS
That has merits.

MAN
Really.

SISYPHUS
There’s a peace in repetition.

MAN
How so?

SISYPHUS
You always know what’s going to happen.

MAN
Rock goes up. Rock goes down. Yes, I can see the peace in that.

SISYPHUS
Very peaceful.

MAN
Very boring.

SISYPHUS
It has a quiet dignity!

MAN
It’s certainly quiet.

SISYPHUS
You get used to it after awhile.

MAN
I thought so. So how long have you been–rock goes up; rock goes down?

SISYPHUS
Awhile.

MAN
There’s a lot of that going on down here.

SISYPHUS
What?

MAN
People doing things for a while. Mind if I ask why?

SISYPHUS
Why what?

MAN
Why you’re doing it.

SISYPHUS
Oh. No, I don’t mind.

MAN
Why are you doing it?

SISYPHUS
I can’t remember.

MAN
Figures. So why do you keep doing it?

SISYPHUS
It has merits.

MAN
Yes, such as exercise. But does it have a point?

SISYPHUS
What?

MAN
Is there a point to it?

SISYPHUS
Does there need to be a point?

MAN
Why do something that has no point?

SISYPHUS
Personal reasons.

MAN
You’re pushing the rock up the hill for personal reasons.

SISYPHUS
Maybe.

MAN
You don’t remember why you’re doing this, do you?

SISYPHUS
Hold on. I think pushing the rock up the hill is the point.

MAN
You’re going to have to explain that one.

SISYPHUS
Rocks don’t push themselves up hills.

MAN
What kind of point is that?

SISYPHUS
Are there other kinds of points?

MAN
Of course. Folks all over do all sorts of things and they all have different points.

SISYPHUS
Really?

MAN
Sure. You wouldn’t catch me doing anything pointless. Over here we do new things everyday. New exciting things that have new and exciting points. And the next day we do something completely different with a whole other kind of point. Admittedly, some of the old crew thinks there is only one point. Still, one point is better than no point.

SISYPHUS
The idea dawns that he might be missing out on something.

This has merits.

MAN
But it’s so futile.

SISYPHUS
Futile?

MAN
Why the hell do you need to push this rock up this hill?

SISYPHUS
Hell. That’s it. This is Hell.

MAN
Oh! Well. That explains it. Pushing a rock to enjoy the merits of rock pushing doesn’t make much sense, but as a punishment, well, that’s a point you can sink your teeth into.

SISYPHUS
This is eternal damnation. You’d think I’d remember that!

MAN
A lot can happen when you do something for as long as you have. You forget things.

SISYPHUS
Yes. Yes you do.

He becomes vaguely worried.

MAN
And it explains why it’s so hot down here.

SISYPHUS
Is it hot?

MAN
It hotter than–well I guess it’s as hot as Hell.

SISYPHUS
I hadn’t noticed.

MAN
Like I said, eternity will do strange things to a man. Take Heaven, for instance. It’s certainly not what I expected.

SISYPHUS
Heaven?

MAN
Paradise. The eternal reward for a life well lived.

SISYPHUS
That sounds good.

MAN
Yeah. It’s like paradise on earth only without the earth to spoil it. The food is great. The people are nice. Everything’s free. You get to see friends and family you haven’t seen in years. Of course, you don’t get to see all your friends and family because not everyone makes it in.

SISYPHUS
Makes it in?

MAN
That can be sad, I suppose. But it’s nothing compared to what you go through. I don’t imagine you have a lot of fun over there.

SISYPHUS
No. You really don’t.

MAN
Didn’t you think it would be different than this?

SISYPHUS
What?

MAN
This. Something a little more dramatic than a six foot wire fence. Like the river Styx and the crossing guy–

SISYPHUS
Charon.

MAN
Yes Charon. What do you suppose happened to him?

SISYPHUS
I don’t know. I remember him, and the river. It was all here when I first arrived.

MAN
I wonder if there’s other things you’ve forgotten.

SISYPHUS
What do you mean?

MAN
You did forget that you were in Hell, after all. What else might have you forgotten? Like, you said you’re doing this as punishment.

SISYPHUS
Yes.

MAN
Who told you to do it?

SISYPHUS
What?

MAN
Who told you to do it?

SISYPHUS
I don’t remember his name. He was mad. I remember that. Really mad.

MAN
You must remember his name. If someone forced me to roll a rock up a hill–a rock that wouldn’t stay at the top of that hill when I pushed it there–I’d remember that bastard’s name.

SISYPHUS
It started with a T. Tonto. Or maybe with a “th”. Thonto. Or Thaddeus or something like that. It was this T guy. We didn’t get alone so well. I made it difficult for him to do his job.

MAN
Who’s job?

SISYPHUS
I can’t remember his name. Thonto or Thaddeus. And I lied to my wife.

MAN
That’s no good.

SISYPHUS
No. No it’s not.

MAN
Why’d you lie to her?

SISYPHUS
I can’t remember.

MAN
Right. So this ‘T’ guy–Thonto or Thaddeus–sounds vaguely Greek.

SISYPHUS
Yes!

MAN
Are you Greek too?

SISYPHUS
I am Greek. I had forgotten that.

MAN
I spent some time there long ago. Hot.

SISYPHUS
Yeah. Not as hot as here though.

MAN
I don’t think anyplace could be as hot as it is here. And humid. I hate a wet heat. It makes anything you do that much more difficult. Must be a tough place for all this “exorcise.”

SISYPHUS
It was at first. Then I sort of forgot.

A pained expression crosses his face.

Until now.

MAN
Maybe you should rest.

SISYPHUS
I can’t. I have to push the rock.

MAN
Don’t you get a break every four hours or so? Isn’t there a rock-pushing union? This is Hell after all. I would have thought this place would be overrun with Teamsters. Get you a collective agreement. Bargain on your behalf with this Thanathos guy.

SISYPHUS
That’s it. I remember. Thanathos.

MAN
Yes. I must have read it somewhere.

SISYPHUS
You know Thanatos?

MAN
I know of him. He goes by ‘Death’ now. Carries a sickle.

SISYPHUS
Yeah he always did that.

MAN
Weird. Good guy, but weird.

SISYPHUS
Yeah. Have we met before?

MAN
No. So you made it difficult for Thanatos to do his job?

SISYPHUS
Yeah. I cheated death.

MAN
Interesting. You know it occurs to me that there’s something highly ironic about this punishment of yours.

SISYPHUS
What?

MAN
Well, you said you’re being punished for cheating death, yet the very idea of an afterlife is generated out of the hope that we will, in the end, cheat death. Humans are so willing to avoid going ‘blip’ into that good night that they’re willing to imagine an eternity of damnation to avoid it.

SISYPHUS
I never thought of it that way.

MAN
That’s some fine irony.

SISYPHUS
What’s irony again?

MAN
When the explicit is the opposite of the implicit. Damnation that becomes Salvation. That’s irony.

SISYPHUS
Oh. I thought it was something else.

MAN
From the perspective of irony, this rock-pushing could be a kind of reward. You do, after all, get to live forever. You may be required to push a rock up a hill but that’s still better than going ‘blip’.

SISYPHUS
Blip?

MAN
Fair enough. It’s not a sound effect that I can imagine having a lot of resonance in Ancient Greece. It’s really a post-electricity sound. You might be able to pin-point its emergence to the development of Pong.

SISYPHUS
Pong?

MAN
Don’t worry about it. Instead of ‘blip’, think of the sound of a candle being extinguished between two moistened fingers.

SISYPHUS
Ssssssss.

MAN
Yes. Imagine if when you died and all that happened was ssssssss and then there was no more.

SISYPHUS
Just black?

MAN
Not even black.

SISYPHUS
Not even black?

MAN
Nope. Just nothing.

SISYPHUS
Would I be able to float around in the nothing?

MAN
No.

SISYPHUS
I don’t understand.

MAN
That’s what makes it so frightening, and that’s why pushing this rock isn’t all that bad compared to blipping or sssing out of existence.

SISYPHUS
Well I guess if you think of death as an extinguished flame–

MAN
Or an unplugged, high scoring game of Pong–

SISYPHUS
Pushing this rock can’t be all that bad.

MAN
Exactly. Unless, there’s some kind of unseen punishment at work here.

SISYPHUS
Unseen punishment?

MAN
Perhaps the rock pushing is not itself the punishment but, perhaps, the punishment is that you are not allowed to do anything but push the rock.

SISYPHUS
I can’t even think of anything else to do.

MAN
Once again, irony intrudes and fouls up a perfectly good system. If you do one thing and only one thing, you can easily forget that there is anything else to do. If you have nothing with which to compare your rock-pushing, how can you know that it is torture–torture being, of course, a relative concept. In the absence of some kind of tangible unit of comparison, what was intended to be torture ceases to be torture and can even become pleasant. In allowing the situation to become ironic, it becomes possible for one to escape the suffering which one was intended to endure.

SISYPHUS
Torture is a bit strong isn’t it? This does have merits.

MAN
Think of all the other things you could be doing instead of pushing this rock.

SISYPHUS
What else would I do?

MAN
Read a book. Write a book. Try to see how many words you can make using the letters in ‘Constantinople.’

SISYPHUS
What?

MAN
In fact, once the protective effects of irony is eliminated–by recognising those effects–it becomes obvious that your punishment is not so much the pushing of the rock but that your time is being wasted in a futile and pointless endeavour.

SISYPHUS
Who are you? What are you doing here?

MAN
Just making conversation.

He snaps his fingers.

Wedges!

SISYPHUS
Huh?

MAN
Wedges. If you had wedges you could–well you could wedge them in there.

SISYPHUS
Wedge them in where?

MAN
Under the rock.

SISYPHUS
Oh. Yeah. I suppose I could.

MAN
Have you got any?

SISYPHUS
Got any what?

MAN
Wedges.

SISYPHUS
I don’t know. I’ve never really looked. You know I should really get back to, um, work.

MAN
Sure sure don’t let me stop you.

SISYPHUS resumes his labour, which is now more of a struggle. MAN watches for a while, then comes around the fence. He removes his shoes and, once SISYPHUS has the rock to the top of the incline, he uses them as wedges to keep the rock in place. SISYPHUS turns, walks down the incline, stops as though something is wrong. He turns and mimes pushing something up the incline. He sees the rock wedged in place. He stares at the MAN.

SISYPHUS
What?

MAN
Wedges.

SISYPHUS
Wedges.

MAN
Well, shoes, but you know.

SISYPHUS walks down the incline, stops, turns, walks up the incline again, faces MAN.

SISYPHUS
How?

MAN
The man said roll the rock to the top. It’s at the top.

SISYPHUS
Yes.

MAN
So. Good job.

SISYPHUS
But what about your shoes?

MAN
Don’t worry about them.

SISYPHUS
But now you don’t have shoes!

MAN
I can get another pair.

SISYPHUS
How? Who did? What are you doing here?

MAN
I thought I’d help you out. Give you a moment of rest. A moment to think. Many hands make light work. And a couple of wedges.

SISYPHUS
How did you get here?

MAN
I came around the fence.

SISYPHUS
Around the fence?

MAN
Yeah. See the end of the fence?

SISYPHUS goes cautiously over to the fence. He looks at it in bewilderment. He puts his hand on his head.

SISYPHUS
I’m tired.

MAN
Well I guess. How long has it been since you’ve had a break?

SISYPHUS
Never.

MAN
That’s quite a while. Do you have somewhere to lie down?

SISYPHUS
I don’t really think I’m supposed to.

MAN
Why not?

SISYPHUS
Well, I have to push the rock–

MAN
You did. See? It’s at the top of the hill.

SISYPHUS
Yeah. What did you do that for?!

MAN
Well–

SISYPHUS
I could get into a lot of trouble for that!

MAN
I’m helping.

SISYPHUS
This is awful!

MAN
Aren’t you happy? I thought that you’d be happy that you don’t have to push that thing up the hill anymore. I thought it had been awhile since you felt happy.

SISYPHUS
Happy? Happy? Well yeah I’m happy! And, yeah, it has been awhile. But, but, this is awful!

MAN
It’s too bad you can’t come back to my place. I’ve got an extra bed and plenty of food. We have cable now.

SISYPHUS
Cable?

MAN
Yeah. Over one hundred channels. It sure beats playing Pong all the time.

SISYPHUS
Aw pong!

MAN
Or playing or doing any one thing all the time for that matter.

SISYPHUS
SISYPHUS contemplates the rock.

What if the shoes fall out?

MAN
They won’t. They’re good shoes. Italian. A lot of Italians in heaven. I guess giving the Holy See a place to set up shop earns you a lot of points.

He examines SISYPHUS’ belwilderment.

So what does it feel like? To be finished pushing the rock, I mean.

SISYPHUS
I don’t know. I don’t know.

MAN
Just say what ever comes into you head.

SISYPHUS
But I haven’t felt anything but–

MAN
Rock goes up. Rock goes down.

SISYPHUS
Yes, for–

MAN
Awhile.

SISYPHUS
Yes. I had forgotten what it’s like to feel–

MAN
To feel what?

SISYPHUS
Anything.

MAN
What’s the last thing you remember thinking about?

SISYPHUS
What?

MAN
By my guess, you’ve spent about a couple thousand years, at least, pushing that thing. You must have done something to pass the time.

SISYPHUS
I don’t know. I can’t remember.

MAN
Try.

SISYPHUS
Nope. No good.

MAN
Did you count sheep?

SISYPHUS
Counting! I remember counting for awhile.

MAN
I bet that helped.

SISYPHUS
Yeah but the number got too big. I couldn’t say it in the amount of time it took for me to push the rock up. I started to screw up the counting, so I stopped.

MAN
Exponents would have helped.

SISYPHUS
What?

MAN
It’s a math thing. It makes the use of very large numbers more manageable. They came up with it after you had been pushing your rock. What else did you do?

SISYPHUS
I’d sing songs.

MAN
Really.

SISYPHUS
Yes. I did. It was nice. It helped pass the time.

MAN
So why did you stop?

SISYPHUS
I ran out of words and notes. I went through them all. It all just started to sound the same.

MAN
Do you remember any of the tune?

SISYPHUS hums a few bars of Yesterday by the Beatles.

Figures. Statistically speaking, I suppose it was only a matter of time. What else?

SISYPHUS
Poems and stories, but–

MAN
You got bored of that too.

SISYPHUS
I ran out of things to say.

MAN
I suppose there are only so many ‘Odes to Rock that Won’t Stay Put’ that one man can write.

SISYPHUS
After a while I just chanted ‘rock’ over and over again.

MAN
How avant garde.

SISYPHUS
Until I fell silent.

He becomes visibly upset.

MAN
And you never remembered things from your life on earth?

SISYPHUS
He remembers but does not want to say.

I don’t know.

MAN
Didn’t you think about old times? Memories? The way things once were?

SISYPHUS
I suppose.

MAN
What did you remember?

SISYPHUS
I don’t know. My wife. I remembered my beautiful wife.

MAN
To whom you lied.

SISYPHUS
Yes. But I had to stop remembering things like that.

MAN
Why?

SISYPHUS
I don’t know. I just did.

MAN
So you chose to forget.

SISYPHUS
I didn’t forget. I stopped remembering. There’s a difference.

MAN
You chose to stop remembering.

SISYPHUS
I had to stop remembering. I had to stop because it was all changing. It happened slowly at first. I’d be thinking about my wife and suddenly realise that it wasn’t her face I was picturing. Eventually I couldn’t remember what anyone looked like, not even myself. Everything started to change each time I remember. She started to change. I couldn’t hold on to her. I had to stop remembering because it got too painful to forget.

MAN
But there must be some things that you still remember.

SISYPHUS
Bits and pieces. I don’t want to talk about it.

MAN
The deepest memories originate in your olfactory senses. Taste, smell.

SISYPHUS
Her smell. I remember her smell.

MAN
What did she smell like?

SISYPHUS
Like–

MAN
Like you can’t say.

SISYPHUS
Yes, as if–

MAN
As if words weren’t good enough.

SISYPHUS
Yes, it’s like–

MAN
Like something you just can’t capture.

SISYPHUS
Yes–

MAN
And when you remember that smell what do you remember?

SISYPHUS
I remember–

BOTH
Everything.

MAN
So. Why are you down here?

SISYPHUS
It’s a long story.

MAN
Well it’s not like we don’t have an eternity.

SISYPHUS
Yeah. Yeah. It all started with my wife, Merope the Pleiad.

MAN
The what?

SISYPHUS
The Pleiad.

MAN
What’s a Pleiad?

SISYPHUS
She was a demigoddess. Her mother was a goddess.

MAN
Wow!

SISYPHUS
Yeah. She was something.

MAN
I can imagine.

SISYPHUS
Of course, her family made her an outcast for marrying me. All her sisters married gods. She was the only one to marry a mortal, and so they black-balled her for it.

MAN
Why?

SISYPHUS
Because Mount Olympus is a club for stuck up snobs is why. The gods rain fire and brimstone on humans for things that they do on a daily basis. Zeus seduces women, and when he can’t do that he steals them and rapes them. So why can’t a mortal have some fun? I seduce one woman and before I know it all the heavens have turned against me! Autolycus starts stealing my sheep and the river suddenly dries up and I know–I know–that this is exactly the sort of crap that the gods would pull just to bug me, the mortal in-law. It’s petty!

MAN
I suppose. But you did cheat on your wife. You had a mistress.

SISYPHUS
Well yeah but her father was stealing my sheep! I was just doing it to get even. Hey, I didn’t say I wasn’t an adulterer. But I’m not a hypocrite and I don’t deserve an eternity of this just for sleeping with Anticleia.

MAN
I guess.

SISYPHUS
So anyways, one day the river dries up. I go upstream to see if I can find out what’s blocking the water. Who do I see but Zeus running off into the sky with Aegina, daughter of the river god Asophus. It was ugly, she was screaming, Zeus had this stupid grin on his face. She screamed all the way up, and he just kept on grinning like an idiot. And just as they’re disappearing into the heavens I hear this mournful wail coming from further upstream. I go to check it out and I find the river god himself, sitting in the middle of the river bed, stopping the water from flowing. So I says to him I says, “Asophus, some of us are tying to farm. We could use the water, buddy.” But he’s a wreck because he can’t find his daughter.

MAN
So you told him.

SISYPHUS
What else was I supposed to do? I’m a father. If someone saw my daughter being carried off I hope they’d tell me.

MAN
I can imagine Zeus was pretty unhappy.

SISYPHUS
Unhappy to say the least. He was caught by Hera, again. He didn’t even get around to having his way with Aegina, which is what I think really pissed him off.

MAN
So what did he do?

SISYPHUS
He sent Death after me!

MAN
Thanatos?

SISYPHUS
That’s the guy! I catch him doing the same thing I did and he sends Death for me. Well let me tell you something, I wasn’t about to lay down and suffer that kind of mistreatment. I laid a trap for Thanatos.

MAN
How do you lay a trap for Death?

SISYPHUS
You have to be tricky. And a you need a wife who’s a demigoddess. And an invisible chain.

MAN
And you just happened to have an invisible chain lying around.

SISYPHUS
I tripped over it in my barn one day. That’s how I figured out it was Autolycus stealing my sheep. He had the power to make things invisible. He’d make my sheep invisible and lead them away with the chain. I guess he just forgot the chain there once. He was always losing things after he made them invisible. So I took this invisible chain to Merope and got her to re-inforce it with divinity and–

MAN
And did the plan work?

SISYPHUS
Of course it worked! I kept Thanatos chained for three days. Three days when no one died. That really bothered Zeus.

MAN
Death can be a blessing. Sometimes it can be a cruelty to deny it.

SISYPHUS
I know! I felt awful! But someone had to show Zeus that he couldn’t interfere with people’s lives whenever he saw fit! Someone had to stand up to him!

MAN
And that’s how you cheated death.

SISYPHUS
The first time.

MAN
There was a second time?

SISYPHUS
Oh yes. Zeus finally sent Ares to free Thanatos, and when he did they both grabbed me and dragged me kicking and screaming here to the underworld. But just before they got me I lied to my wife. And–can we drop this?

MAN
Come on Sisyphus. This is important. What did you lie to your wife about?

SISYPHUS
How did you know my name?

MAN
Don’t change the subject. What did you lie to your wife about?

SISYPHUS
It’s inexcusable. I manipulated her. As if she wasn’t enough of an outcast, I had to go and make her a heretic.

MAN
A heretic.

SISYPHUS
I told her that when I died, when Thanatos had carried off my soul and my body was all that was left, she was to leave my body untouched, denying me the proper burial rites and profaning our house with a corpse.

MAN
And she did it?

SISYPHUS
Of course she did it. She left her home on Olympus to marry me. She did anything I asked her to. She didn’t understand why, and it hurt her to desecrate my corpse, to watch it lie cold in our bed. But she did it. And the first thing I did when I got to the underworld was profane her name to Hades and condemn her for not giving me my proper burial rites.

MAN
You told her not to bury you properly and then you got her in trouble for it.

SISYPHUS
I only did it to get back to her! I knew Hades would be outraged that his death rites hadn’t been observed. He set me free for one day so I could go punish my wife. Once I got back I just stayed there.

MAN
Wasn’t Merope mad?

SISYPHUS
She was at first. The gods didn’t want her anymore, and after she desecrated my corpse the mortals wouldn’t have anything to do with her either. But eventually she was just overjoyed to have me back. Neither of us thought very much of the gods by that time. We lived on for ten years in open defiance of Zeus. We embarrassed him.

MAN
So how did you end up here at all?

SISYPHUS
I died naturally. No one cheats death forever. When I got to the underworld Zeus was standing there with Hades. Thanatos was there too. And I laughed at them, the three of them standing there, looking so tough. I shouldn’t have done it, I know, but what a bunch of arrogant jerks!

MAN
The gods don’t like being laughed at.

SISYPHUS
So what? What are they, cry babies! I looked Zeus right in the eye and said, “I got out of here twice. What makes you think I can’t do it again?”

MAN
Doesn’t sound like you were helping your own cause.

SISYPHUS
Should I have begged for forgiveness?

MAN
You don’t think your offences deserve punishment?

SISYPHUS
What offences? I stopped a girl from being raped!

MAN
You interfered with the work of the gods.

SISYPHUS
They interfered with mine! My only offence was to challenge the gods to live by the same rules they set out for us humans. All I wanted was my fair share of time on earth. All I wanted was to be in charge of my own destiny, not be treated like some kind of plaything.

MAN
And now you are being punished for it.

SISYPHUS
Yes. Yes, I am. I’m being punished for standing up for myself.

MAN
Technically, you are being punished for defying the gods.

SISYPHUS
And this, this is my punishement.

MAN
Yes. Rock goes up. Rock Goes down. And you will do it forever.

SISYPHUS
That’s horrible. That’s hell!

MAN
I’m glad you finally remembered.

SISYPHUS
I remember everything.

MAN
He returns to the other side of the fence, as though to leave.

Excellent. Back to your rock then.

SISYPHUS
What?

MAN
Back to your rock. You have work to do.

SISYPHUS
But the wedges.

MAN
Right. Almost forgot. That would have been an egg-on-face kind of oversight. Particularly after I did such a good job.

SISYPHUS
What are you talking about?

MAN
I’d love to stay and chat but I really must be going. Other clients to attend to.

SISYPHUS
Client? I’m not a client.

MAN
Of course you are. Perhaps, given your age, you are more familiar with discontinued expressions like ‘penitents’ or ‘the damned.’ After the One True God consolidated the various divine agencies, some of his marketing people thought those expressions didn’t present the sort of image that would sell. After some intensive and comprehensive focus groups, the expression ‘clients’ was settled upon. It’s professional and emphasises that the OTG’s agents are first and foremost service providers. Here’s my card. Don’t worry it’s in Greek.

MAN hands SISYPHUS a card.

SISYPHUS
I can’t read this.

MAN
What? Oh my mistake. That’s New Testament Greek. Here’s my ancient Greek card. I really need to be more careful about that.

MAN reclaims first card, gives SISYPHUS a second.

SISYPHUS
Edmirah?

MAN
No, EDMRA. It’s an acronym. There’s fine print beneath the logo. Look.

SISYPHUS
He reads it out loud.

The Eternal Damnation Maintenance and Renewal Association. I don’t understand.

MAN
Yes. I admit that the name is not particularly illuminating but clarity is not always helpful when one is trying to brand oneself. If you have any complaints, you are welcome to direct them to the PR department.

SISYPHUS
No, I understand the words. I don’t understand what it is you do.

MAN
I’m a Senior Associate Damnation Monitor. In the event that a client becomes totally amnesiac, the corporation automatically deploys a monitor to remind the client of his or her damnation and/or suffering. Don’t worry, the fees have all been paid on your behalf.

SISYPHUS
Fees?

MAN
Yes, the service fees. If there isn’t some kind of fee involved people tend to abuse the service and monitors are deployed incessantly. And it’s how free-lance monitors like myself make their money.

SISYPHUS
Money? You’re a business man.

MAN
To be precise, I am a service provider for the One True God. When the OTG decided to stream-line his processes, limbo was eliminated. Billions of un-baptised babies were re-assigned to Hell. Unfortunately, a baby doesn’t really know what’s going on and needs to be constantly reminded of his or her suffering, hence the need for Monitors. But that kind of work just doesn’t appeal to me. I wanted to work in a field with a bit more class. So, I decided to specialise in antiquities like yourself. Some of you have been down here for so long it is only natural that you would forget why you’re here. Each client requires and deserves special treatment. After all, even your idea of an afterlife is blasphemous. Consequently, the process of refreshing your memories requires special care.

SISYPHUS
So, you came down here to remind me of–

MAN
Everything.

SISYPHUS
In order to–

MAN
Improve your suffering of course. If one does anything long enough, one is bound to forget why one is doing it. And if one forgets that the point of a given task is to cause suffering, well, one might even start to like that task–no matter how futile–and one might forget that one is being punished.

SISYPHUS
And you spend eternity doing this: making people suffer.

MAN
To be more precise: I remind clients of the suffering that they are legitimately expected to experience.

SISYPHUS
I–

MAN
Look, I’d love to stay and chat but time is money and I’ve got a two-o-clock that I can just make if I leave now. We’ll have plenty of time to chat in the future. I’ll check in everyone once in awhile just in case you get into a rhythm again. See you soon.

MAN goes to leave.

Oops. Nearly forgot my shoes again.

MAN goes to take shoes out from under the rock. SISYPHUS get in the way.

I’m sorry, but I need to take my shoes with me.

SISYPHUS
Who pays you to do this? Who do you work for?

MAN
Technically, I work for myself and am under contract with EDMRA. Since most of my business comes from them, I guess it’s the OTG who ultimately pays me.

SISYPHUS
Is Zeus still in charge?

MAN
No it’s a new guy now. That’s why we call him the One True God. OTG for short.

SISYPHUS
And what’s he got against me?

MAN
In any hostile take over the new entity takes on all the debts of the old corporation.

SISYPHUS
I don’t understand when you talk that way.

MAN
If Zeus said you were to be eternally damned then that’s good enough for OTG. You can’t let all the prisoners out just because the warden changes.

SISYPHUS
Maybe you could get my case reviewed–

MAN
He laughs.

Do you have any idea how many cases there are? If we reviewed your case we’d have to review everybody’s.

SISYPHUS
Maybe you should. Do you know they’ve got a guy down here gets his liver eaten out every day?

MAN
Every day?

SISYPHUS
It grows back every day too just so it can get eaten out again.

MAN
That sounds pretty unfortunate.

SISYPHUS
You’re telling me!

MAN
Well, at least he doesn’t have to worry about psoriases.

SISYPHUS
Huh?

MAN
No system is perfect. There’s always going to be individuals who slip through the cracks. Generally speaking, the evil of Ancient Greece is the evil of today. It’s more efficient this way.

SISYPHUS
Efficient.

MAN
It’s all about efficiency.

SISYPHUS
So ‘efficient’ is what’s keeping me here? Not my offences?

MAN
You’re just going to confuse yourself with all these questions. Let me take my shoes and you can get back to work.

SISYPHUS
He gets in the way again.

Yes. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’m really very grateful.

MAN
Good!

SISYPHUS
For a minute there I thought what I did was futile. But now that you’ve explained your job to me . Well I’m just glad I get to push my rock.

MAN
Are you losing your memory again? This is torture. It’s futile. There’s no point to it. Remember? The candle sssssing out of existence and the irony?

SISYPHUS
Yeah. But at least I’m doing something.

MAN
Doing something?

SISYPHUS
Yeah. At least I’m having an effect on something. Rock goes up, rock goes down. What you do, well, it makes me understand what you were saying about the fear of nothingness.

MAN
What I do is not nothing.

SISYPHUS
Yeah but it’s like that other thing you said, about having something to compare my punishment to. After hearing what you do, what I do doesn’t seem so bad. And it’s great exercise.

MAN
You’re trying to be clever, Sisyphus. I’m in Heaven and you’re in Hell. I can do whatever I want and you have to push this rock in eternity.

SISYPHUS
That’s just my point! I have to push this rock. But you can do whatever you want, anything in the underworld. Yet you choose to do this. To be stuck with torture is one thing, but to choose it–that’s nothing.

MAN
I resent your remarks. What I do is not torture. I work for the One True God, and the Lord’s work is divine work. For you to suggest otherwise is blasphemy. It only goes to show why you should be down here. Your existence has no point. Mine has a divine purpose. That is the difference between damnation and salvation.

SISYPHUS
What is your divine purpose?

MAN
To ensure that the evil doers are shown the evil of their ways.

SISYPHUS
So it’s about rehabilitation.

MAN
Partly. There’s also deterrence.

SISYPHUS
Deterrence?

MAN
Punishment to make an example. After word got around that you were being tortured by pushing a rock up the hill people got more careful about respecting their gods.

SISYPHUS
Did they? So no one disrespects the gods anymore?

MAN
I didn’t say that. But an important lesson was taught. There was another story to add to the socio-cultural mythology that governs the collective subconscious of society and–

SISYPHUS
And people still disrespect the gods. Do they get punished like I did?

MAN
Well, no.

SISYPHUS
I see.

MAN
But there are other reasons for punishment. There’s protection. Dangerous people have to be removed from society to protect the innocent.

SISYPHUS
So I’m here to make sure I don’t teach others to disrespect the gods?

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
Which is what they’re doing anyway.

MAN
Well–

SISYPHUS
But they don’t get punished. They’re permitted to keep tempting others into disrespect. I’m the only one who’s punished for this.

MAN
It’s not as simple as all that.

SISYPHUS
Isn’t it? That’s reassuring.

MAN
There are other reasons. There are always other reasons for punishment. Retribution. You’re repaying your debt to society.

SISYPHUS
I didn’t realise I owed a debt to society. I thought my offence was against the gods.

MAN
Yes but the gods are perfect representations of society. We are made in their image and thus must strive to do as they do.

SISYPHUS
So the gods are a model for society.

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
So if everyone behaved more like the gods then society would be a lot better?

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
So if I were to take the example of Zeus, I would conclude that a good, model member of society commits repeated adultery, steals women and rapes them whenever he wants, and punishes anyone who tries to make him accountable for his actions. Is that how society runs these days?

MAN
No. To be quite honest, the old gods, the Greek gods, aren’t worshipped anymore.

SISYPHUS
Yeah, you said that. What’s this new god’s name?

MAN
He is the Word and the Word is God.

SISYPHUS
His name is The Word?

MAN
Not exactly. Look, your culture suffered from god overload. You had gods for everything from sex to wine-making to metallurgy. Too much mixed stimulus. God today is simpler. He’s singular. He’s efficient. He has the purity of one-ness. Today there is only one God.

SISYPHUS
One god?!

MAN
Yes. And he is the Word and the Word is–

SISYPHUS
And he doesn’t even have a name?

MAN
He goes by several names.

SISYPHUS
There’s only one God but he goes by several names?

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
Why?

MAN
Excuse me?

SISYPHUS
Why does he go by several names? Is he trying to confuse people?

MAN
No! He is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

SISYPHUS
So there’s three of him.

MAN
No, he’s singular.

SISYPHUS
He sounds triangular to me.

MAN
Let me try to explain this. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God. God took pity on us and sent his only son to earth to die for our sins. And the son was God.

SISYPHUS
And the son was the Word.

MAN
The son was Jesus.

SISYPHUS
Jesus.

MAN
Yes. Jesus lived his life without sin, or as close to it as any mortal man can. We all must try to meet the example he set for us.

SISYPHUS
What was the example he set for us?

MAN
To live life as fairly and justly as possible. To treat fellow humans with dignity and respect. To punish evildoers for the glory of God.

SISYPHUS
Evildoers like rapists.

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
Evildoers like adulterers.

MAN
That’s more complicated.

SISYPHUS
Evildoers like those who defy the gods?

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
So I’m repaying a debt to society.

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
Who’s society?

MAN
Our society.

SISYPHUS
Not my society. My society hasn’t existed for a long time.

MAN
As I mentioned, in any hostile takeover the new managing entity assumes the debts of the old.

SISYPHUS
And that’s the divine purpose of keeping me here? To repay a debt to a society that no longer exists? To protect and deter the people from doing what they already do?

MAN
Yours is the sin of pride. You are here because you scorned the will of the gods. You are here to be shown the error of your ways.

SISYPHUS
So one day, if I learn my lesson and allow the gods, or the God, to run my life entirely, I’ll be set free?

MAN
No. You’ve been sentenced to eternal damnation. That means forever.

SISYPHUS
I see. So I’m not really here to be rehabilitated.

MAN
I suppose not.

SISYPHUS
And what is it that you do again?

MAN
I’m a Senior Associate Damnation Monitor with the Antiquities Department of the EDMRA.

SISYPHUS
So you’re sort of like a custodian.

MAN
I am much more than a custodian. I am a messenger of the One True God.

SISYPHUS
I thought you said you were some kind of monitor.

MAN
Well, it very similar.

SISYPHUS
And you go around reminding old guys like me why we’re bad.

MAN
Well, there’s more to it than that.

SISYPHUS
Isn’t that supposed to be Hades’ job? Making people suffer, renewing and maintaining torture.

MAN
There were a series of bold manoeuvres to out-source–

SISYPHUS
Sounds to me like just the sort of trick Hades would pull. You know this isn’t even the same place I came to. The underworld I knew is gone. This Heaven you speak of, it didn’t exist in my day. Everyone came to the underworld after they died.

MAN
Well there’s a Heaven now. It’s clearly defined by that fence.

SISYPHUS
Yeah. There used to be a big river, and a three-headed dog.

MAN
Cerberus.

SISYPHUS
Yeah. He guarded the gates of the underworld. But that fence doesn’t guard anything.

SISYPHUS walks towards the fence.

MAN
Where do you think you’re going?!

SISYPHUS
I’m going to Heaven.

MAN
You can’t leave!

SISYPHUS
Why not?

MAN
You’re damned. You’re not allowed in there.

SISYPHUS
Yeah. I guess if I did go around the fence you’d be in a lot of trouble.

MAN
You’re the one who’d be in trouble buddy!

SISYPHUS
I’m always in trouble.

MAN
How would I be in trouble?

SISYPHUS
For letting me into Heaven. I bet the big guy won’t take too kindly to letting an eternally damned soul into Paradise.

MAN
But you’re not in Heaven.

SISYPHUS
But there’s nothing stopping me.

MAN
There’s the fence.

SISYPHUS
I could go around it.

MAN
You’d probably burst into flames or something.

SISYPHUS
Well, there’s only one way to find out.

He goes around the fence without effect.

See? No flames.

MAN
There must be some kind of mistake.

SISYPHUS
Maybe this isn’t Heaven. Maybe we’re both in the Underworld.

MAN
Listen to what you’re saying! I am in Heaven and you are in Hell. That’s perfectly obvious.

SISYPHUS
I’m not so sure it is. Tricking people is Hades’ specialty. Wouldn’t it be ironic if it turned out that you were in Hell and you were also being punished for some crime against the Gods?

MAN
I’ve committed no crime against the gods–or the One True God. And don’t try to tell me what irony is mister!

SISYPHUS
You’re so wrapped up in what you do that you don’t even know why you’re doing it. You just think what you’re doing is good because you’re doing it for the OTG. But while you’re thinking that, maybe what’s really happening is that Hades is using you to do his dirty work.

MAN
You’ve lost your mind.

SISYPHUS
SISYPHUS crosses back.

Have you ever met the OTG?

MAN
Met him? Well, no. No one really gets to meet him except for Gabriel, Uriel and Michael.

SISYPHUS
So one of those guys told you that you worked for this damned corporation?

MAN
No. It’s almost as difficult to get face time with them.

SISYPHUS
So how did you get this job? Who told you to do it?

MAN
Nobody told me to do it. I appeared here and started doing it.

SISYPHUS
So no one really told you that you were working for the OTG character.

MAN
It’s a feeling I got when I arrived here. As though I had something divine to do.

SISYPHUS
That’s quite a leap of faith.

MAN
That’s what the OTG’s all about.

SISYPHUS
Were you always a highly religious man?

MAN
Yes. Well, no. Close to the end, I was quite sick and had a lot of time on my hands. I was in bed and I didn’t really have anyone to talk to. I did a lot of reading on the subject and at the hospital people would come to talk to me about what I was reading and one day I felt as if a piece of myself I had been missing had been found. I learned to seek forgiveness from the Lord for all my sins and my soul was saved.

SISYPHUS
How long before you died did you become a religious man?

MAN
I can’t remember.

SISYPHUS
You’re starting to sound like me.

MAN
Fine. About three weeks.

SISYPHUS
You knew you were going to die and you got scared.

MAN
I know this is hard for you to understand, but He died for our sins and His forgiveness is infinite. We are assured a place in His Kingdom once we have truly taken Him into our hearts.

SISYPHUS
So let me get this straight: a man can sin all his life, make friends with this Lord guy in his last few weeks and still receive eternal reward?

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
Sounds kind of dodgy to me. Hypothetically speaking–do you mind if I speak hypothetically?

MAN
Be my guest.

SISYPHUS
If–and I’m only saying if–you had been tricked by Hades, do you think you’d know if you’d been tricked?

MAN
I’d know.

SISYPHUS
How?

MAN
Because I always know when people are lying.

SISYPHUS
But no one lied to you. You said you had a feeling.

MAN
It was a divine feeling.

SISYPHUS
And Hades is as much a divine creature as Zeus ever was.

MAN
You’re trying to confuse me.

SISYPHUS
If I were Hades and I wanted a soul to work happily for me in eternity, I’d try to make it think it had a divine purpose. No one has more energy that a zealot.

MAN
What you’re saying is useless because I can’t defend myself against it. You’re whole argument is based on saying ‘What if” about something that I take for certain. You can ‘what if’ anything. You can ‘what if’ anything and everything until the end of time. I can’t argue against something when I’m the thing in question.

SISYPHUS
We’re just speaking hypothetically. Isn’t what I’ve said possible?

MAN
Possible?! Anything’s possible. The question is what’s plausible.

SISYPHUS
How can you know what’s plausible for a God you’ve never met, who has three different names, who you defied for all your life and then embraced out of fear?

MAN
I didn’t defy Him! Sometimes you have to do things you don’t like in order to succeed, but I never defied him.

SISYPHUS
Success. You mean business. Making money.

MAN
Yes. Is there any other kind of success?

SISYPHUS
You tell me. If you didn’t think there was any other kind of success then why did you get religion so late in life?

MAN
I didn’t have time. So long as I continued to work hard for success I didn’t have to think about things like God and salvation. But when I was in the hospital, lying around all the time, I had no choice but to think. And so I did. And I thought about God and I accepted God, and he forgave me.

SISYPHUS
And it worked! You pulled it off! You’re in Heaven!

MAN
Yes!

SISYPHUS
And now you’re a success again! Even in the afterlife!

MAN
My business is booming!

SISYPHUS
Who pays you?

MAN
I beg your pardon?

SISYPHUS
Who pays you?

MAN
I told you already! The OTG.

SISYPHUS
How does he pay you?

MAN
Heaps of gold appear in my house each day!

SISYPHUS
Gold!

MAN
I always supposed it was handled by angels or something.

SISYPHUS
What do you spend all your gold on?

MAN
I never actually spend any of it. It just piles up in my house. My house is almost filled with gold. I barely have anywhere to lie down.

SISYPHUS
So what do you do with your gold?

MAN
Mostly look at it.

SISYPHUS
That’s your divine work? To make people suffer and look at your gold?

MAN
I’m in paradise dammit!

SISYPHUS
Are you sure? Are you always doing things with new and exciting points? Do you get to see friends and family who have passed before?

MAN
I’ve been far too busy with the EDMRA. I haven’t had the opportunity to take personal time. You are an evil soul. You’re trying to corrupt me. I’m going back to Heaven.

SISYPHUS
Me too.

SISYPHUS goes around the fence again.

MAN
Stop doing that! You should not be able to do that.

SISYPHUS
So what does that tell you? What kind of god let’s people defy his will for the trouble of walking around a fence?

MAN
One that works in mysterious ways!

SISYPHUS
One that doesn’t exist, or isn’t paying attention.

MAN
I don’t know what you’re doing or how you’re doing it but I’m going to make sure you pay!

SISYPHUS
Pay with what? All my gold?

MAN
You still haven’t learned any respect for God!

SISYPHUS
You’re in Hell and you don’t even know it. You’re a fool for gold and Hades is using you.

MAN
He is not! This is Heaven! I know I’m in Heaven. I work for EDMRA. I am in the service of the One True God. I was forgiven! I let God into my heart and now I love him and he loves me and we’re going to be together and you can’t stop us!

SISYPHUS
You said you can always tell when people are lying. Listen to yourself. Are you lying?

MAN
No!

He is stunned, as though hearing himself for the first time.

Oh my God. I am lying.

SISYPHUS
Wow. You really do know when people are lying.

MAN
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. What did I ever do? My work is divine. What did I do to deserve punishment?

SISYPHUS
You probably already know.

MAN
It was Michelle.

SISYPHUS
Who’s Michelle?

MAN
She was my girlfriend.

SISYPHUS
Girlfriend?

MAN
I loved her. We lived together. We were in love.

SISYPHUS
Your wife?

MAN
Kind of. Everything is the same but without the ceremony.

SISYPHUS
Did you have many children?

MAN
We have ways of controlling that now and I, she, we never could decide if we wanted them.

SISYPHUS
Did you lie to her?

MAN
Sort of. I tested her.

SISYPHUS
Tested? How?

MAN
I tested her! I tested her love.

SISYPHUS
And she failed.

MAN
And I never forgave her for it.

SISYPHUS
You invented a test for her love and when she failed it you didn’t forgive her.

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
That’s bad.

MAN
I told her that I forgave her but I didn’t.

SISYPHUS
You lied.

MAN
More to myself than her. I couldn’t let her go but I couldn’t forgive her either. So I punished her. I held onto her. I continued to test her, knowing she would fail. I interrogated her about her failures. I forced her to tell me every detail. I had her convinced it would act as a kind of absolution but really it was just a way to punish her and to–

SISYPHUS
Punish yourself.

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
Funny.

MAN
What?

SISYPHUS
That’s what you do now in eternity: remind people of their failures.

MAN
I shouldn’t have been so hard on her. She was just trying to love me in the only way she knew how.

SISYPHUS
So why were you so hard on her?

MAN
I was afraid she would leave me.

SISYPHUS
So you found a way to force her to leave and then punished her for leaving.

MAN
No. I created an excuse for me to leave. She wouldn’t leave me. Even as I was telling myself that she would leave me I knew she wouldn’t. No matter how much I punished her, she wouldn’t leave me. She loved me. So I laid a trap for her and created an escape route for myself. And, then we never spoke or saw each other ever again.

SISYPHUS
You must have felt bad.

MAN
Yeah, well, there was always success to keep my mind of things. The fortunate thing about being a man is you don’t need anyone else to be one. There is always success to keep you company, to distract you, to occupy your thoughts, to give you a point, to make it easy to justify things you wouldn’t do otherwise.

SISYPHUS
So was there ever anyone else?

MAN
Not really. No one important. No one I allowed to be important. There were more important things to do. There was success.

SISYPHUS
So that was why you were alone when you were sick.

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
And had time to think.

MAN
Yes.

SISYPHUS
And you didn’t think to send for Michelle.

MAN
I did. She never came.

SISYPHUS
When did you send for her?

MAN
I don’t know. About three weeks before–is this some sort of ancient Greek trick you’re pulling on me?

SISYPHUS
How could I possibly trick you? What do I have to gain from tricking you? Even if I could escape from the underworld again, what do I have to return to? My time and life are long gone. I have nothing to gain from this.

He indicates rock.

Or this. No one seems to care that it’s not rolling anymore, either.

MAN
The rock has been wedged in there more than twenty minutes too. I scheduled a twenty minute stoppage but we’ve gone well past that. I even filled the relevant forms out in triplicate. Funny.

SISYPHUS
What?

MAN
My whole life, I thought paperwork was useless and that no one ever actually looked at it. Guess I was right.

SISYPHUS
I don’t understand.

MAN
Lucky for you. Sisyphus, I’m thoroughly confused. It seemed so much like Heaven over there.

SISYPHUS
I guess it would when you have nothing to compare it to.

MAN
So what do we do now?

SISYPHUS
I don’t know. We don’t have to do anything and an eternity to do it.

MAN
Do you think there are any Gods left?

SISYPHUS
I don’t know. Maybe there is a God but you’re not in Heaven. Maybe Hades got bored of it all and left. Maybe he’s watching us and having a blast. You never can tell. Hades is tricky that way. For all you and I know, there could be a whole host of new gods out there watching us. We’d never know.

MAN
Or when Hades or God or whoever figures out what’s happened down here He or She or whatever is going to come down here and put things back to where they were before.

SISYPHUS
Maybe. Or maybe they’re sitting on a beach somewhere drinking wine and eating olives. Why worry about it. When I escaped from the underworld the second time, I could have consumed myself worrying when Zeus would come and get me. But I didn’t. What would I gain from that? I enjoyed the life I had left to live.

MAN
But, this is hell. We are supposed to be punished for our sins. If not, why are we here?

SISYPHUS
We can’t even be sure that it is Hell or the Underworld or anything.

MAN
What’s the point of an afterlife if we are not being rewarded or punished for our time on earth?

SISYPHUS
Why does there always got to be a point with you? Maybe having a point isn’t so important. It’s better than nothing. Or sssing. An afterlife does have its merits.

MAN
Like?

SISYPHUS
It’s good exercise.

MAN
And you can float around in it.

SISYPHUS
And it gives you time to remember.

MAN
Yes. It give you time to remember. So what do you want to do?

SISYPHUS
I don’t know. What do you want to do?

MAN
I asked you first.

SISYPHUS
Why is that important?

MAN
It generates a moral imperative for you to answer.

SISYPHUS
Why the hell should I have to answer just because you ask a question?

MAN
Questions demand answers.

SISYPHUS
You know, there used to be a bunch of guys in Greece who always went around asking questions, demanding answers, trying to find out about the truth.

MAN
Philosophers.

SISYPHUS
Jerks.

MAN
Are you always this difficult to get along with.

SISYPHUS
Yes. Come on. You can show me all your gold.

MAN
It’s really shiny.

They playfully ad-lib some banter as the lights fade.

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