A sort of Sysiphus

His toes touching the raised edge of the blue gym mat, Burg now found himself moved to ask why he could not let himself fall straightforward on his face onto the mat, an interesting question, and it seemed to him very important that he do this and figure out the answer: that he master the force in himself that would not let him fall and that would not specifically “let him fall on his face as flat as a board” — for he had come to think of planks and of boards as embodying his ideal when it came to responding to natural forces. “Why can’t I make myself ‘be a board’?” he would ask, envisioning the stoic fearlessness and lack of response with which a board would submit to falling.

It should be noted that there were a great many things in himself Burg hadn’t mastered and it might well be wondered why he chose this particular aspect to insist on his total domination of, but he was quite insistent upon it, at least for a short time, insistent that he should master this disinclination to immediate self-harm by falling flat as a board.

He half-raised his arms rigidly to his sides, outward, as one would prepare to dive from an elevated platform, and began to lean more and more over the mat’s edge, as if the mat’s edge were a deep pool; trying to stifle and suppress that strong instinct against imbalance and absence of control he knew might probably arise soon, just as he might suppress the urge to vomit when confronted with something disgusting (falling was “disgusting, –in a way”, according to Burg, made one want to “throw up”, i.e., regain balance)… trying to “unlearn” what he knew about falling; trying not to know what it was or implied; trying not to fear or to mind it was happening; and after all what could happen? What could happen indeed if he “made himself a board?”

But at a certain point it would always become clear –with a clarity like a shock that he felt through his entire body– that no, he was not merely leaning, but actually falling; that he would be soon falling without any control, without any ability to stop this, (which was something “disgusting” that made him “want to throw up”) and inevitably would always arrest his fall without having really wanted to, well before having hit the mat.

He had tried it several times: allowing himself to fall then at the last second stopping himself by thrusting forward a leg — now the right leg, now the left leg — and this became the model for all Burg’s future steps. And that is the story, the myth really, of how Bainil, as he came to be known, gained his peculiar and much remarked upon lunging gait: “like a sort of Sisyphus” was how it was described to me, “as he moves he is always trying to let himself fall, and always inadvertently preventing himself from it.”

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