Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Spoiler and warning: this is going to be very boring.

Christian heroes of faith are often upheld as models for lesser beings to imitate. Some admire Peter for his leadership ability, or Paul for the depth of his analysis. Others may wish to emulate King David's love for the God. But of all the biblical characters, my favourite is King Solomon. Because he was fabulously wealthy, wise beyond understanding, enjoyed all the delights of the flesh, and was ultimately utterly disillusioned.

I love reading the book of Ecclesiastes over and over again, not only for the beauty of the language, but also the existentialist melancholy, which is still true of modern life. Indeed as Solomon poignantly cries, meaningless, meaningless. Everything under the sun is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Material comforts bring no happiness, the colour of beauty fades inevitably, and the significance of lifelong achievements is transient. Generations live and die, even the memory of these people is lost.

The moment of eureka came upon me ironically in a shopping mall, where I was wandering between two appointments. The Christmas shopping season brings with it a splendid range of kawaii trinkets and party clothes of all manners, and the delightful dilemmas of which to purchase. Then it occurred to me that buying yet another pretty necklace really isn't going to make any difference in my life. In fact, buying things in generally make very little impact on me, unless of course, they are necessities. Sadly, the much touted retail therapy only did much damage to my bank account, and nothing for my happiness. Purchases sometimes stay in a corner of my room, unopened and unloved. It looks like they are attractive only when they are on sale, and once the act of acquisition is over, I lose all interest in them because I can no longer buy them again. I still try to listen to my MP3 player every now and then to console myself that I didn't waste the money, though.

It was surprisingly easy walking away from the lovely stuff which I usually have a great weakness for. I only have to remind myself that wearing the necklace isn't going to make me lovelier. Besides, the prettier I am now, the more wrenching it would be for me when one day I grow old and lose the freshness of youth. And I am halfway there already. I don't want to become a plastic surgery cyborg like celebrities, in their bid to prevent the inevitable. One might as well try to stop the tide from coming in.

When I was 5 years old, I was the top student in my kindergarten. It was a terribly proud moment for my parents, but even more so for myself, standing on the stage to receive my little prize. Yet with the perspective of the latter years, how unimportant and trivial this monumental achievement has become! Indeed, how laughable it would be if I were to continue to take pride in that, because with adulthood rightfully comes greater goals - a promotion, enterprise, private housing, country club memberships. Some go on to win sporting honours, or even, leadership of the country. These achievements may seem impressive to us, but when we shuffle off the mortal coil, will they really matter to anyone at all? We may toil and sweat, and lose sleep over the stress of coping with our lives, but when we stand before the Great White Throne, dare we bring these before our Maker, and say boldly that these are worthwhile fruits of our sojourn in the world? Or perhaps these would appear to Him, what the kindergarten first prize looks like to us now, because like children, we lack the wisdom to recognise what is of true worth.

And this is why I like Ecclesiastes - complete pessimism about life, because this realisation stops us from mindless pursuit of what is desirable but futile. Solomon's nihilist representation of our life on earth leads us to seek what is indestructible and of eternal value. I guess nothing puts everything into perspective like eternity. Death has the habit of making us concentrate wonderfully.