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“Until you have burned your soul and everything that you believed in the fire of another’s heart, don’t talk to me of your childish notions of love.

That’s life. This last week in Bloemfontein afforded me the (unexpected) chance to catch up and make peace with a ghost from my past, and a long drive back through the desolate wastelands of the Free State (the sunflowers were all dead) with the usual long-driving-Sam-has-fallen-asleep introspection that such trips afford. I realised that sometime in my early twenties, perhaps earlier, there was a shift in my life from it being a set of experiences I took in from the environment around me (school, family, etc) over which I had little control, to it becoming a narrative that I began to write more or less with my own freedom.

I have been penning that particular story for something like seven years at least, but it was not until this afternoon that i have actually stopped and looked back on what I have created. There are parts which have been extremely joyful and proud – friends I made, places I have been and adventures I have had. There has been a lot packed into that time, so much of it somehow intertwined with debaters of various generations and the antics they have gotten up to in the name of doing what they love. It has been time well spent.

There is also one story, a sub-plot within the last seven years of my life, if you will, which I had thought had been written and finished. It was probably the saddest and angriest period of my life, and one whose effects set my subsequent years on a very specific and not-always-pleasant spin. I can’t, looking back on the last decade of my life, find a more important defining moment that shaped who I am than this chapter. Sparing the details, it was a love story which went tragically wrong and left me hating someone more than I believed possible for the last six or so years.

I made my peace, in a way, with that person this week.

And that single act has made me realise just how unpredictable this whole narrative we call life really is. If you had asked me seven years ago where I would be now, and you asked me six years ago, you would have received entirely different answers – contrasting particularly in their levels of love or hate for the world and the community of debaters in particular. Spending the last week in Bloemfontein and seeing many old landmarks for the first time since that narrative was written was a strange experience indeed. Like being back in South East Asia last year, it was a sense of walking paths I had been on before, expecting them to become history, never to be revisited. Happy places, sad places, places in between – being able to physically see the spaces where such fascinating stories played out in the past, like a younger ghost of myself superimposed on many everyday places, so terribly unaware of what was in his future.

Ideas of closure or a nice, neat ending to how a person feels don’t exist and never will. I think you just need to realise that what is inside, just is. And that is OK.

I am older, wiser, and have seen a lot more, but what I hadn’t realised was how raw some nerves can still be. When I say making peace in a way, I have been able to stop hating from my past, but to say that I no longer care, or am indifferent to what happened would be a lie. It was also unsettling to realise that after seven years, what happened then and how I felt can still come back from somewhere inside me and in so many ways making me feel exactly as I did when I was that little love-smitten ghost. I think I am also starting to realise that I may never lose the way I feel. It may dull with time, and become a softened memory like so many others, but in the presence of the people and places where that story was written, I think it will always come back in a rush, like some sort of emotional lightning rod.

I don’t think I will ever deal with that part of my past, or get over it, because there was never a reason for me to stop being such a naive, loving fool, but I think I have realised that it is alright to feel and carry that with you just so through the years. Ideas of closure or a nice, neat ending to how a person feels don’t exist and never will. I think you just need to realise that what is inside, just is. And that is OK.

My epiphany as I drive back today, as I had done so many, many times as my younger self, was that we never really choose when to end the stories in our lives. We can just learn to live with who they make us and rejoice in the bittersweet heart that we grow to have.