It has been five weeks since I submitted my thesis, and the sweet rest that I looked forward to has not yet materialized. I begin to think that it will not materialize. These days I keep repeating to myself, “life is a duty – it will be easier to bear if we think that way”.
After submitted the thesis, I was hastily finishing the online package. A week after the submission, I went back home for Chinese New Year. Most people think that holiday at home is a relaxed period, but as my family are perhaps the most industrious persons I know, that week at home was spent on editing the price list and discussing other work-related matters. The next two weeks was spent on lamenting my lost holiday, editing the online package, and reluctantly starting on the new project. Finally, this week I start learning the software required for the project, worrying about my lack-of-knowledge / lack-of-memory on basic soil mechanics, and reading a textbook in order to pacify my anxiety. The reading has proved rewarding in itself: at least now I can explain what limit equilibrium means, what seepage force means, and why boat floats (!).
Few weeks ago I finished reading George MacDonald’s “Lilith”. It is a really worth-reading book. Perhaps more than a coincidence, the last few books that I read talk about death. In “The Silmarillion“,we have the Numenoreans and the discourse on the futile search of immortality. It is emphasized that death is a gift, as through it we will be free from this world. In “Phantastes“, the main character found the meaning of his life by sacrificing it (thus, embracing death willingly). But if in those books death is only a side topic, in “Lilith” death seems to be the theme. I will not attempt to summarize the book, I cannot do justice to it. What I remember from the book is that only through death can we be truly alive; those who seek death because they are tired of living can never be worthy enough to find it. The book says repeatedly that we should sleep (thus, embracing death) so that we can be awake later. While we are living in this world, we are never truly awake. For no one who will not sleep can ever wake. The book went on to describe the experience related to this sleep. When she finally agreed to sleep, Lilith (the titular character) finally sees herself as what she is: created for good and beauty, but turned herself to evil. And this true knowledge of herself brought great sorrow to her. Similarly, after he slept willingly, Mr. Vane (the main character) met those people that he had wronged, had hurt in the past. And somehow they became so dear to him that he sincerely regretted the harms he had done them, and willingly he did anything possible to make atonement with each person. But Mr. Vane noted that these regrets did not mar the conscious bliss and joy he experienced in his sleep.
As if writing about death was not ambitious enough, MacDonald continued his story by describing the waking up, “the glorious resurrection-morning”, “the new heaven and new earth”, “the most beautifullest Man”, “the City”. When I read these last chapters, I felt that the scenes are curiously familiar, and I immediately checked the book of Revelation. I think we can say that MacDonald modeled his last chapters after the later parts of Revelation. But in reading Revelation, I did not find that description of joy, of bliss that MacDonald described so detail in his book. (Perhaps if I meditate on the Revelation prayerfully, I would be able to capture the joy implied in it).
Again, perhaps more than a coincidence, my recent favourite songs are the Requiem by John Rutter. In January, the last month of my thesis writing, I listened to these songs daily. Requiem is a Latin word which means rest, and this term is used to refer to the Mass or Christian service related to a funeral.
Having finished “Lilith”, I decided to read a different type of book, lest I sink too deep in fairy romance. I resisted the tempting “Leaf by Niggle” and Tolkien’s lecture on mythopoeia, and turned to Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”. And indeed, no better choice can be made. Not that SS is a very good book, but no book can be more different from fairy romance than this book. In SS, almost all characters are obsessed with money.
I realized that lately I have become rather sentimental (!). Few days ago, I found my eyes wet just because I read the lyric “why does He bear neither sceptre nor crown?” in Rutter’s Christmas lullaby. And yesterday, watching a movie about Victoria and Albert, I almost wept when Albert died. Oh, silly me.
Chris finished his seminars yesterday. I am glad that both seminars went well. I must admit that he presented better than I imagined. Sometimes he is so quiet that I begin to imagine that it will be good for us to see Lionel Logue :p Now I hope we will have chance to date or at least talk as a couple should, before he is again busy with thesis revision and I with my project.
To return to the issue of rest, I think what I should do is to balance my work and rest daily, instead of looking forward to a blissful period with nothing to worry about. For perhaps the sweet rest will not ever materialize, until I sleep that sleep. We only sing Requiem for funeral, do we not? As if the living did not need rest.
If you think there are too many italics in this post, well, this is a side effect of reading Jane Austen.