This is the Fire of Leaving Pain

Time passes. Collect a scroll and kingfisher plush toy when you pass go. Roll the die. Pick up the community chest card. Pay rent. Collect wealth.

As much as we like to see transitions as emotional farewells, they too, are transactional. After all, a transition is a transaction, you exchange your time in college for a place in another firm, another company, another higher institution of learning. The time here is but wind that billows up our sails, that pushes us along to the next destination, the next port of calling. Our time was a transaction from the start; we pay school bills to get food and housing and education, we talk in class to engage our ideas with others, to better learn, to get that better grade. We get that better grade to attain a number on a transcript, to show our future bosses that we know what we are talking about and aren’t just filling pillows with fluff. We send emails that start with “I hope you’ve been well” to professors we might not even want to know anything more about other than how much they’re going to care if we submitted an assignment 2 hours late, or if the final exam would be testing so and so topic. Our time here, if put bluntly, is a transaction. Four years of accruing knowledge, forming relationships that will bolster us into the future. We work hard and play hard in order to say that we gained something when we finally put on our robes and walk onto the stage sheepish and awkward, in front of some people who matter and many who don’t. We shake hands, we receive a scroll not even real.

What a waste it would be to think of everything as transactional, to think of everything as just passing through and so not worth holding on to. Looking at the line of students walking forward to collect their scrolls, one might think of this entire endeavour as that of a production line, producing fresh graduates to churn out into society. Cliche, but many cliches turn out to be true.

The only way to burn down this notion of transaction is by using fire. This is not your primary 5 camp campfire, but the fire of leaving pain. It is what burns and cooks you from the inside as you walk out of a place you thought you could never get used to. It is the warmth of conversations with one another late into the night. It is the first conversation to the last, every one of them leading to this final reckoning like breadcrumbs that form a beautiful trail. This fire is the sting of absinthe that made us honest. It is our acts of kindness that touch us and made us cry, of coming together in times unimaginably tough as we held candles in Elm and remembered. It is every argument we had, drunk punch we flailed, heartbreak we experienced, people we swore never to talk to again, people we swore to fight for till the very end until we cannot fight any longer and our muscles all ache with trying.

Have you ever stayed up with someone till 3am? Talked to them about nothing at all yet everything? Held each other’s emotions on the edge of a knife? It appears that graduating from a place like this is precisely like a 3am talk, where time flows slow to the point of almost-stillness. Both of you still know that the inevitable morning will come, but the magic of 3am keeps our reservations suspended, we believe that we are, for lack of all better expression, eternally bound in the moment. What is it about transitions that prompts us as such?

Suspension is just the word for the occasion. We are indeed suspended, within our own thoughts, with the place we inhabited, with each other. It is a stubborn suspension that refuses to let go just yet, that still believes, like a 3am conversationalist, that there will be time yet. As I walked up the stage, received the scroll, I looked to the crowd and felt suspended, felt very light as if something was carrying me somewhere which I had no knowledge of.

Notions of suspension aside, I want to ping back to the notion of fire. The fire of leaving pain, that burns and swallows, that stays in our minds longer than the duration of the carnage, which sometimes is only for a short while, that last all of a few seconds when your chest constricts when you realise that this may actually be the last time, that this conversation, this drinking session, this confession, this farewell glance, is all that this school could offer until security stands at the door and asks you to leave. This is the fire that burns and warms, it is the fire that destroys all notions of transaction.

Because, put simply, what transaction can there be that places this burning sensation in our chests? We transact to feel secure, to feel like we have garnered enough resources to live a good life. The fire of leaving does the opposite, it makes us do stupid things that may potentially hijack our well being. It makes us stay up too late, drink too much, talk too much, feel too much. The burning sensation in your chest, the warm afterglow we feel as we walk off the stage and say goodbye to all our friends, is entirely counterproductive to what a transaction aims to achieve.

And for that, may we forever have a part of ourselves suspended. May we never let this fire burn out.

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