So I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes lately. The verses for this week’s sermon was also coincidentally on Ecclesiastes. The whole book on Ecclesiastes is basically this: Everything is meaningless.
2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
It goes on about how wisdom and folly is meaningless, and pleasure and pain is meaningless etc. etc. You get the picture.
I used to like Ecclesiastes for a childish reason. It came across as encouraging when I had a bad day at school or when I failed something. It takes out all my angst. “Everything is meaningless!” I’d declare mock-heroically/wisely and gravely. And then I’ll get over myself and try to do better.
I still like Ecclesiastes because it feels as if everything is being put into perspective. It balances out everything and contemplates about the unfairness of life, why bad things happen and all that. It’s kind of like Job. While Job did question God, the author in Ecclesiastes accepts that in the end, some things can’t be explained or understood and it’s all just part of life. To be fair though, I suppose Job was more emotional about it because he was losing everything in life left and right and it was personal whereas the author in Ecclesiastes was just pondering about life in general.
Speaking of this though, why is it that we are the quickest to attack and bemoan God when bad things happen? What about the good things He gives? I always find that people in general are so quick to ask “Why me?” in bad times and they don’t say so much as a “thank you” in good times. It’s like they take it for granted that life is suppose to be good or something. Why don’t they ever blame God for good things? If they ask God “why do bad things happen?”, why do they never ask Him “why do good things happen?”? It just seems a bit lopsided to me.
Personally, I always feel ‘bad things’ happen for a reason which I may not be able to understand or accept in my limited human capacity. It may make me a better person in some aspect of my character but if I knew that, I might reject the trial out of my weakness and my want to get out of the scathing flames. And I may not grow well or strong enough to be able to obey, to be useful.
I used to tremble in trials. Trials can vary from person to person but when you’re under it, it just seems like so much to bear. I used to ask God to remove me from the trial because it is too much. But then I figured, this is the only way I’m going to grow. It’s the only kind of chance and opportunity to grow stronger (since I always kind of fell away in smooth sailing times). Didn’t I pray to be a stronger person so that I can be useful when He wants to use me? Didn’t I ask Him to mould me and don’t I want to be someone He can entrust His will to? If I get out of the fire now, my intentions, His intentions, they’d all be for naught. He may remove me if I plead hard enough but I’m sure He’d be disappointed. And then if I wanted to grow and prayed and it required me to undergo another trial, why I’d just be placing myself under more trials then necessary since I didn’t learn or grow the first time. Also, I figured I was the only limiting factor to overcoming the trials. God himself will meet what I feel is more than what I can bear. And that’s the growing part: the reliance, the constant reminder of who’s really in charge here, which can be pretty hard but once we get ourselves out of the way, He will come and that’s awesome. He will even help you come if you ask for Him to help you, which God knows I’ve done often enough.
I digress. Back to Ecclesiastes. I think it’s written very beautifully and poetically, almost like the Psalms and Proverbs kind of things. Amidst all talk about how everything is meaningless, my mind wanders to Beckett who is still very fresh in my mind. They’re similar, so similar, and yet so different. It’s obvious why they’re similar. Especially in this bit of Ecclesiastes:
2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
3 when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
4 when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.
Is this not very Beckett-sounding? Especially about the windows and the sun and moon. Yet, they’re different. Beckett’s one is really all mooching about in the dust and ashes, just trying to unsettle the settling dust, the death. It’s just…the end. There’s no more beyond the end for them. That’s why they’re trying to keep living in their nothingness although they know it won’t last. That’s why it’s depressing.
So what makes Ecclesiastes different? This:
1 Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
Before all the sun and moon and stars grow dark, before all the aforementioned takes place, REMEMBER YOUR CREATOR IN THE DAYS OF YOUR YOUTH.
That makes all the difference. Beckett got the last bit of it right, the sadness in the endings. Life can be and may be that miserable when it comes to it. Ecclesiastes says about as much. But Beckett forgot the beginning, the one that might have rescued Hamm and Clov and Nagg and Nell from their Endgame. I know they’re fiction but still. I wonder if there had been a prequel to Endgame, what would it have been like? Endgame already means it is the end of a game. So what was the game? What were Hamm and Clov and Nagg and Nell like before meeting their endgame? And what about the people who did remember the creator in their youths? I think those people were spared the endgame. They could have died already which in terms of Endgame is a release, a gift that is better than the waiting for it. Nell died first, and I thought she did because was the sanest and could see the farce of all this. She was thus granted death, an escape from waiting in this Endgame Hamm and Clov were more reluctant to do.
This is why I’m having such a hard time in Literature. What Man writes is fallible, one-sided, and they mayn’t mean anything at all. When we were told to analyse Beckett on what the characters mean, the set means, I tried to see meaning in it. Then I went to Google “Beckett on Endgame”. I wanted to see what he said about it. If my interpretations were right. If there even was an interpretation. I know people say there are many interpretations and no right answers depending on how you argue for it. But seriously, maybe you should ask the author if they even had an intended meaning for their work. After all, they were the ones who wrote it. It’s not like viewing a beautifully nature-sculpted rock. Writing is man-made. Influences, experiences, prejudices would already be in the work. There’s a limit to the interpretation we as gentle readers are allowed. Like, what does it mean, Beckett?
What my Google prowess threw up was this: “Beckett once asserted: ‘I produce an object. What people make of it is not my concern […] I’d be quite incapable of writing a critical introduction to my own works.'” Which either means he has a meaning to it which he doesn’t want to commit himself to or THERE’S NOTHING TO INTERPRET BECAUSE HE NEVER HAD ANYTHING BEHIND IT. The only thing I will take from him on Endgame is this: “‘You must realise that Hamm and Clov are Didi and Gogo at a later date, at the end of their lives [… ] Actually they are Suzanne and me.'” (Suzanne being his wife) And that’s it. That’s what Hamm and Clov are, the representatives of a marriage which they found “difficult to stay together and impossible to leave each other”. That’s it. Bam. Mystery solved.
I remember the “Remember your creator in the days of your youth” verse mounted up on one of the school walls. I never really got the context of it. I don’t even fully get it now. But I know at least, it means something. It’s meant to mean something. And I can re-read and re-read it in different seasons of my life and still get something useful and applicable out of it because at least it’s meant to mean something. It’s not a dead text, confined to the stage, actors, a human writer, and the interpretations of people (who really might not have anything to interpret at all). This verse is so very much alive in reverberating up till today. That’s something human text might never be able to do. Because it doesn’t have the God factor in it.
For all my thoughts, I have no idea how to answer the Endgame question that will come out for the exam. Well done, you.