A meditation on the “Myth of Sisyphus,” parenting, and civic engagement.
As we approach the last weekend of summer, many of us are busily preparing for one last trip to the beach. And for those of us who have younger children, our beach gear will almost certainly include buckets, shovels, and plastic molds in various shapes. We will be building sandcastles.
As someone who has helped his children build a large number of increasingly complex sand structures over the years, only to watch them disintegrate in the face of the inexorable tide, I sometimes wonder why we continuously engage in this Sisyphus-like task. What is it that causes us to keep digging and shaping impermanent sand? (I am not raising this question to shirk my sandcastle building responsibilities this weekend – our tools are staged near the car and ready for duty).
Even though he wasn’t writing about building sandcastles, Albert Camus had an answer to my question. In his seminal work, “The Myth of Sisyphus,”
he posited that Sisyphus could find meaning and purpose in the never-ending task of pushing a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down.
This weekend, we will happily substitute sandcastles for a boulder, and the tide for gravity. We will enjoy quality time with our children, delight in their innocence and their squeals as the rising tide catches them sitting in the sand, marvel at their creativity and their endurance in the sun, and encourage them to build something even more sophisticated than their last creation. We will do this even though we know our efforts won’t survive the evening tide and we will likely be pressed into duty again the next day.
I will be returning again-and-again to the theme of parental duty as I publish this Blog. It is, perhaps, my own Sisyphus-like task. But as you are building sandcastles this weekend, I would ask you to take a minute, perhaps as you are looking out over the horizon at sunset, to think about what else you could be doing the next day to improve the lives of our children. Our kids are facing enormous challenges as they grow up – struggling public schools, increasing shares of public debt, rising education costs and student loan debt, and increasing distrust between police and the communities they serve. We owe it to them to take the time to engage on these and other pressing issues (and to build sandcastles too). If enough of us start pushing these boulders upward, some of them will eventually roll over the hill. Let’s start the climb this Labor Day.