Last night I celebrated Havdalah with a bunch of great people by going on a small boat cruise on the River Soar. Havdalah is a Jewish religious ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat and begins the new week. We often conclude it by saying ‘shavua tov’ – ‘have a good week’. The distinction between Shabbat, the day of rest, and the working week, is becoming increasingly important to me. I’m also realising how much common sense there is to the spiritual practices that I’ve taken for granted.
I think in academia in particular, there is a tendency to conflate your identity, who you think you are and your sense of self, with your job. But I am not a job. I am not very good though at making this distinction all the time, just like I’m not very good at maintaining the distinction between the day of rest and the working week. I am a workaholic, and this is not news to anyone who knows me. If you’ve been fighting for a particular job for so many years, once you do get it, there is a tendency to ‘pay back’ your gratitude via overworking. But ultimately, as I’ve found, this is counter-productive to doing this job well. A job only works as a job when you learn to maintain perspective about it.
This made me think of a couple of things last night. Firstly, a comment I saw on a friend’s Facebook post (I hope she doesn’t mind me mentioning it here): this comment described how Rabbi Abraham Heschel argues that religion begins from wonder, and that this wonder is integral to ethics in our lives. I do remember discussing this a few years ago with someone. Interestingly, it made me think of Susan Sontag’s famous line that, ‘Cinema began in wonder’.
Last night, as I was watching the calmness of the water and sunset with a glass of Kiddush wine in my hand and a man playing the guitar next to me, I thought of both of these wonders. I wondered if my natural inclination towards researching cinema within my academic discipline and job is related to my wonder at basic things about the world: how is the water this calm and still, how is someone able to play the guitar this well, how is the rain this beautiful from the confines of a boat, and why do I find so much wonder in a religion that I simultaneously interrogate with that same curiosity that drives my research?
Okay then, maybe my job and my life are connected, integrally. Maybe it’s naive to think I can separate the day of rest from the working week so neatly and philosophically. But maybe that day of rest exists to remind me of that wonder, and so I need to protect it, even in small ways.