This baby sweater was knitted as a stress response. It was 10:30a.m. on a Monday morning and I was home, instead of at lab.
My project left at the desk of an overworked organic chemist, while I sat in my grey rolling chair, unable to keep the thoughts that infiltrated my mind like pesky ants at bay.
What if the reaction doesn’t work again? Aren’t you just wasting time and money on this drug, this way of synthesizing the conjugate? No one has really ever worked on temozolomide, probably exactly because it’s a difficult drug to work with. Why did I think I could take it on? Even if the reaction does work, what if I can’t get the conjugate to coat my nanoparticles?
And so, I picked up my needles and yarn, my hands lulled into the repetitive motion of the cast-on until the thoughts finally reduced to a quiet background murmur.
My Skype rings, and Mom appears on my screen.
“What are you doing?” She asks, concerned, as she observes me slumped in my grey chair, my eyes trained on my hands nonchalantly repeating the action with my metal needle: in the loop, yarn around, pull through. Again.
“I’m knitting. It’s the only thing I know how to do right now,” I say blankly.
Some people stress-eat. I stress-knit.
It’s my way of controlling my environment when I sense my lack of control.
I visibly see progress, the knit rows increasing in length. Ah yes, my work is not in vain.
I go on to tell Mom about my project and my doubts, how I hate being so unsure about everything, how I hate not being able to control my progress.
“Take the organic chemist out for coffee,” I hear Dad comment from the other room, “Busy is a relative word. No one’s every busy.”
Yeah, I wish a coffee would solve my problems. I hold onto the dark pink yarn as if hope was this worsted cord, wrap it around the needle, pull through. Again.
I found out last week that I didn’t get the scholarship. It was only a scholarship (although a $50,000/year one at that). Nothing had been taken from me, except unmaterialized expectation. And yet, the news threw me into a frenzy of questioning myself.
If I had been deceiving myself thinking I was doing alright, when the objective fact was – I just didn’t measure up when compared to others.
You don’t get much quantitative feedback of how you’re doing in the PhD, so when you finally get scores that rank you on academic excellence, research potential and leadership ability, it’s really hard NOT to make those scores the barometer of how you feel you’re doing.
And I wrestled – with my expectation of how I thought I should do, of what I thought I deserved to get.
It brought back memories of the first time I applied to graduate school.
Yale paid for me to fly from China to New Haven for an interview. And I read on graduate school forums that once you have the interview, you’re pretty much in the program. That the interview is really only to attract students who have multiple offers to their school.
So, I let myself hope.
I went on that housing tour, picked out the district I thought I would want to live in. I drafted up a new note in my Evernote of the various clubs and activities I would join once a student.
I even wore that dark blue and white Yale shirt they gave me with pride (Princeton, please forgive me).
But, I received a letter a few weeks later telling me that no, I had not been accepted into Yale after all.
And I seriously considered staying forever in my little Chinese village – where I would never have to worry about resumes, or scholarships, or putting myself out there only to get rejected.
You see, I have a hard time with this whole hoping and getting disappointed thing.
Tikvah (hope) was the new Hebrew word I learned that same week, from my book 70 Hebrew Words a Christian should Know.
Apparently, the root of tikvah is qavah, which means waiting. So, hope is intimately tied to the concept of waiting for something to happen.
Qavah can also mean ‘cord’, like the red cord that Rahab hung from her tower when the city of Jericho was being destroyed. It was the cord that gave her hope.
I like that the Bible gives concrete imagery for concepts that are often hard to grasp.
It is said that the greatest realities can only be talked about in metaphors and stories, for that is the only way we can dare to touch the wisps of ultimate reality.
A cord could be a taut rope threatening to snap at any point, every fiber electric with the tension of the expectation of what is to come. Most of the time, my hope feels more like this variety.
But, a cord could also be the elastic toughness of a bungee, one strong enough that people would strap themselves to it and jump off a 100 footcliff.
And in this case, all that would matter is what the cord was tied TO. As long as it was something immovable, sturdy, permanent, I would not die.
It made me think about the things I hope for.
Yes, in a small way, my hope is for me to have my experiments work, to publish a paper of noteworthy results, to get important scholarships and awards.
But beyond that is the hope that I will do meaningful work. The hope is that I will live up to my God-given calling, which I believe is greatness and deep satisfaction in cultivating the portion of land He has given to me.
I hope that my grandparents will one day know Jesus, and that I would know him in His fullness. I hope that I will one day see Him face to face. I hope that I will live forever with Him in eternity.
And it is with this hope – this qavah cord hope – that I wake each morning, and diligently pursue the things in front of me.
If you ask me why I am not a non-Christian, I would probably start with the arguments from truth, goodness and beauty.
Of how the world is ordered, and simply its mere existence demanding explanation. I would talk about our natural instincts for beauty and goodness although there is no rational explanation for such concepts in a random materialist world.
And although I do believe in all those arguments, and am convinced that there is enough evidence out there to make the existence of the Christian God not just possible, but quite probable, if you really press me on it, I think it would come down to this – hope.
If I didn’t believe in God, I don’t know what there would be to hope in.
For what reason would I wake up and dedicate my time and energy to a collection of random atoms that don’t mean anything and will ultimately degenerate back into dust?
Now, now, I can hear that Richard Dawkins tsk of yours, for how can I just create hope because I want to. Isn’t that false hope just a crutch? The opiate of the masses?
But, perhaps, that is the only way to live.
If we believe in what happened on Good Friday and Easter, that Jesus really did die and resurrect, then we must believe that life conquers death. That the greatest suffering gave way to the greatest victory. And that love, as demonstrated by the blood poured out at the cross, is what makes sense of it all.
And I have to believe that –
I have to believe that suffering eventually gives way to tombstones being rolled away. Not because Buddha said a wise mantra centuries ago about being delivered from suffering, but because God Incarnate took on our suffering and demonstrated with his resurrection the victory that comes after.
I have to believe that love is the centrepiece of what makes us human and what we ultimately strive towards. Not because it makes me feel good or even because it’s what makes my species continue into posterity, but because God IS love and He created us to love and to become like Him in His self-emptying, cross-bearing love.
Maybe I’m wrong.
But I would rather dare to hope and live boldly than be a skeptic all my life and simply be smug that I didn’t fall prey to a fairytale.
Hope is a dangerous thing.
Every time I feel my cord snap, I find myself wishing I hadn’t hoped for it in the first place. I shouldn’t have even tried applying for that dumb scholarship, shouldn’t have bothered with Yale.
But I know that the right response isn’t to deprive myself of hope, but to see the unfulfilled longing as pointing towards something beyond the things I’m hoping for.
Perhaps there is a kingdom not of this earth that I’m unconsciously groaning for every time I feel an injustice served to me, for every time my expectations are not met.
And instead I am to hold on to this cord, hand-over-hand follow it to the thing it is attached to.
Pressing into the suffering of Good Friday, into the stillness of the Saturday, through to the morning when His buried body began to breathe –
Happy Easter, everyone.