Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Goodbye Stranger

Stranger: A person who does not know, or is not known in, a particular place or community.

I’ve never been one for goodbyes. I don’t think goodbyes are befitting of strangers, perhaps because we strangers are so shadowlike, so momentary and fleeting.  Goodbye is a term used to express an acknowledgment of parting. For the stranger, it is these partings that make up life; it is these never-ending departures and arrivals that shape our ideals, our beliefs and our experiences. Maybe its the unpredictability and frequency associated with such transitions have rendered me unable to say goodbye. The few times I have managed to, its never felt truly sincere, its never felt whole. They say a stranger hardly ever feels attached to any place, any group. They never feel rooted or tied down and rarely if ever do they experience a sense of belonging. I think its this inherent detachment that explains why for the stranger, goodbyes feel strange. 

I’ve always felt like a stranger. In secondary school I’d spend more time reading in the library than outside hanging out with my mates. I was never very close to anyone, I think this was owing more to my noncommittal personality than anything else. I guess I enjoyed the freedom of being alone. Of being unrestricted. As the years passed I would regularly cut class to catch up on sleep in the library, or duck out of school opting instead to roam the graveyard or the grounds of the local mental hospital (these were the only open places close by and rambling under the open sky sure did beat maths). Outside of school I spent most of my time drifting around like a carefree vagrant. I would go on solitary adventures; wandering through forests and woodlands. I’d jump on trains to random places and explore. I’d discover different areas, markets, obscure galleries and temples and dead-end towns. I’d go on never-ending city walks. Along the way I’d always find other wayfaring strangers (flitters I called them) to talk to, to laugh with, to share stories and to connect with on a spiritual level. I met so many interesting and colourful characters this way, you wouldn’t believe! At the end of the day we’d part, sometimes we would stay in contact, other times we wouldn’t. We would rarely say goodbye upon parting, instead we might offer a ‘see ya around’ or ‘so long.’ I liked this way of living and learning. I thought it to be pretty magic. 

I think it was the last day of secondary school when I realised how little the place actually meant to me, how unattached I was from it all; the hallways, the canteens, the corridors, my teachers and my mates. Five years at the same school and I couldn’t care less that it was over. The announcement was made on the loudspeaker -we were free to go! I remember the noise and the excitement of it all, the sound of my classmates cheering and shouting. As everyone poured out of the classroom and towards the field I quietly slipped through the fire exit and made my way out via the shortcut through the mental hospital. I never said goodbye to anyone, I just left. While others made their memories and took their photos and signed each others jumpers I decided to walk the path of the stranger. I ended up going to the local park and there I set my uniform on fire, it felt great! (I thought I was so cool) I did get some closure in the end. Its always been that way. I’ve always looked inwards from the fringes. Always felt kind of detached from the world and from other people, even from myself a lot of the time. And God. The path of the stranger can be a lonely one to tread sometimes.  

It was pretty much the same at college, only rather than appreciating the freedom of being alone like I had done before I longed for company, for true friendship I think. The flitters were no longer enough. I felt a deep sense of loneliness that lead to a depression that no amount of counselling could fix. I would have to search deep down within my soul for answers. During that year I spent most of my time alone, in the woodlands and by the river writing my novel Freegan Freedom. It was a great way to escape, to invent my own world in which I could live in. At least for a little while. Freegan Freedom explored the relationships between a group of dissimilar Londoners living in an abandoned building brought together by fate and connected through shared anti-materialistic and communitarian ethos. The book gave me hope, it kept me going. It kind of reminded me that although the life of a stranger can be a difficult one, it is also blessed. It is the path towards truth, towards self-discovery and ultimately, and I still believe this, towards peace. Like other journeys, the strangers is a journey of the souls growth. In travelling this path, the way you view the world changes, the way you view other souls on the same journey. I think in being a stranger you become more receptive to the universe, to the movements of trees and the changing of clouds, the trickling of water and the howling of the wind. You sort of become at one with the universe.  

During my second year of college, after a trip abroad I kind of came back to life. I  began attending pottery classes and world politics workshops in a community college, at the same time I would continue to attend evening sign language classes and work as an arts leader in different primary schools around south London. I also landed a job in a pharmacy and started volunteering at a local refugee centre. All of a sudden I became part of many beautiful communities. I met so many wonderful people; resilient and kind asylum seekers, inspiring inner-city kids, addicts and cancer survivors. So many brilliant souls. I met one of my best friends too, a Korean artist and a fellow carefree vagrant who had spent much of her life moving from place to place, somehow she ended up in London and we got on like a house on fire. We used to go adventuring together all the time, caves, forests, oriental supermarkets. We’d talk about our aspirations and ideals, our dreams; after a year she moved away. We never said goodbye and that was cool. Sometimes things are best left unspoken. And I never said goodbye to any of those other communities or places. I never said goodbye to the warrior children at Kings Avenue, or the fearless upright folk of St Mary’s. I never said goodbye to anyone in college either. I just walked out one lesson and never went back. Maybe its because I’ve experienced so many new beginnings and ends that they all blur into one. 

Its weird, I’ve always felt more like a stranger when amongst a crowd of people or at a gathering. Sometimes, when everyone’s laughing or talking, I find myself drifting away. Of course I’m there, but at the same time I’m kind of not. Other times I’ll feel more like a stranger when I’m alone. I remember this one occasion I was waiting at the train station after college. It was the middle of winter and the sky was turning dark when an announcement was made that none of the trains would be moving as they found a body on the line. A person had committed suicide; jumped from the bridge onto the icy train tracks. There were so much noise and confusion. I remember walking out of the station, the buses were all packed so I decided to walk it. I walked for ages under the black night sky beside the river Thames until I finally got to where I needed to be... I felt like a true stranger that night. 

University was maybe the only place that I felt like I sort of belonged, though I still didn’t feel any great sense of attachment. Maybe it wasn't even the university,  but the prayer room. Its warmth. I met some of the most inspiring people in that room, so many brazen souls. Often I get this weird feeling, as though I was never really there. 

I guess this might be due to the fact that I was never in much during my second year owing to some pretty bad health problems. Though really I know that’s its just the way I am. I’m a stranger. I don’t think I’ll ever fully detach myself from my nomad persona. And I don’t think I really want to. It is what it is. I won’t say goodbye to university. It’s a time for transitions once again, this week I’m starting a new job at the wetlands and last week I handed in my notice at my pharmacy job. No goodbyes. Yeah I’ll miss it, vaguely maybe. More than that I’ll take away all the good, I’ll take away from it all the lessons learnt, I’ll remember all the souls who have inspired me and all the crazy stories that I was told. I’ll remember and I’ll appreciate. But I won’t say goodbye. I can’t say goodbye. You know at first I always beat myself about this, but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to realise that it is what it is. And that’s ok. Not saying goodbye is ok, because goodbyes signal the end, and this journey of ours is never-ending.