September 5th, that was last week. Photos and videos were made. But I was not really there.
(It was reminded that I write a lot. It is thus fitting that I would deliver an epilogue in writing as well.)
“the clothes were really nice. the event was impressive.”
I am glad you will keep a special memory of it. The entire ceremony was scripted in advance, there was nothing else left to creativity and uncertainty than the show I would put up. And so I did, and I went all the way. I believe it worked, indeed; I am glad I succeeded.
“even though it was scripted, it was nice to see you do something special for such a special day.”
As I said it was supposed to be a show. The target of the ceremony is not the candidate, nor the committee; it is the audience. It is the audience who wants to experience a ritual, a communion of some sorts, so as to provide a reason to stick another label on the person being handed his diploma.
Even though my own lack of respect for that symbol would have mandated that I arrange for no audience whatsoever, my friends would have been disappointed if I had asked them to not be there and instead meet them only afterwards for some partying. I played the game because I like every one in the audience and I wanted to satisfy their craving for symbolism. My own preference here did not matter, the day was special for you and I thus wanted to do something special for you. Besides, I like playing roles so it was not a chore. My pleasure, glad you enjoyed it.
“but surely it was also special for you somehow?”
It was, although probably not the way you expect. There was no pride, no closure, no inspiration. The symbolism does not touch me; I was not looking forward to the ceremony and I am glad it is concluded. What makes the day special in hindsight was the presence of my friends, my loved ones. I am retrospectively immensely grateful for their presence and support. Yet the observation comes only in hindsight, as on the day itself I mostly did not reap the benefit of such emotional intimacy.
Truth be told, I was overall absent from the event.
My outside appearance, the one on the photographs and videos, was playing the role that was expected from the circumstances. Meanwhile, the “real me” was either shut down inside or away on a different plane of existence. My memories of the day are fragmented, as if collected through the mist of drunkenness. In hindsight, especially when I look at the photos & videos, I feel more like a spectator than an actor of the show.
“indeed, you looked a bit out of your shoes”
I blame officially the lack of sleep, as the two previous nights had been rough. It was suggested that anticipation was expectedly causing stress and disturbed my sleep. It was also suggested that the adrenaline on the day itself kept me high and thus prevented my conscious presence. More likely, I had made a choice to “disconnect” from the scene, so as to prevent the event from appealing to my feelings; the risk I more or less consciously wanted to avoid was that an emotional state would surreptitiously remind me of my depression, darken my mood and ruin the show.
“you say you were absent, yet you seemed moved by your supervisor’s speech and your friends’ presents”
That speech was indeed special. It was well prepared, well thought, impressive. The symbolism of its words was a gift, one that I will cherish and be grateful for; I am glad it was recorded so that I could more consciously listen to it and enjoy it, a few days later.
But on the day itself the words were flying around me, while my real self was safely tucked away. Except for the last part, where some saw me wince. That was indeed a sore spot; his use of the word “exceptional,” which I had felt was coming a couple sentences before it was uttered. It blasted through my well trained emotional numbness and shook me.
For you see, “exceptional” carries for me probably a quite different meaning than the speaker intended, than what it probably means to you. For me it is synonymous with “alone,” also with “to be feared and not loved” or “different and not belonging.” In these circumstances, it resonated with “intelligent and thus dangerous”; a sharp, painful reminder of what bullies for years have explained I should not be, in unavoidably convincing terms. Also, a reminder that I am disappointingly weak, since 20 years later I am still unable to forget, forgive and move on. It was the label of a form of intellectual success, the very means that simultaneously alienates me from most of mankind. I despite its significance, and if I could give back 40 IQ points and years of inter-cultural experience in exchange for the comfortable certainty of a loving hug every day, even from the most dull person in existence, I would gladly do so. But the speaker did not know these effects of the chord he struck, so I won’t hold it against him.
Then there were the presents. I was moved first by their (your) acknowledgement that I value experiences more than objects. Knowing that I was understood at that level, although I never phrased this preference explicitly before, made me feel connected. I was moved second by the words of wisdom I received, which showed a form of attention that required more thought and effort than merely showing up. I was moved third and foremost by the offer to fly, as I had not realized until that point how I had wanted it and I realized that it takes a real friend (or maybe a couple) to figure out that I’d enjoy that. At that very point, I did experience for a while the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with emotional closeness, although it was kept under check by my aforementioned deliberate numbness.
“so, now, what’s next?”
Foremost I want to find the appropriate words to signify my gratitude to those who came and did their best to make me feel special. Whatever my experience has been, I value this token of friendship enormously. Then I want to get some reading done, as I was offered some pretty nifty books and I can’t wait to see what’s in them. Then probably some real vacation, as all the work in august and september are taking a toll on me.