Why is it better to last than to burn?

‘She wanted to be provocative and ask him, why is it better to last than to burn?’

It isn’t always, of course.  Some fires burn down quickly and folk make do with the cosy glow from long-lasting embers.  Sometimes one or other of the pair lets the fire go out completely, either through neglect or by deliberately pissing on those embers.

When you first asked this question of me, provocatively, I answered initially with one sentence, that I thought we had a lot more burning to do, that our burning could have lasted a long while yet.  But though it may be academic now, the question has refused to go away.  It keeps coming back for a better answer.  There is a way of keeping the fire going, I am sure of it, not just of never letting it go out, but of fanning the fire till it burns with a consistent brightness.  It went out for you and P.  It has for me and W.  We have both of us struggled with relighting those fires.  We both tried.  Maybe you would say that you are still stoking the embers with P, shifting the coals around with a poker, adding on new fuel, but we both know that sooner or later even that rejuvenated fire will go out, particularly if you are once again letting your imagination run riot.

But you with me, me with you, you know we would scorch each other, that flames would have leapt and gone on leaping.  You said so often how lovely it would be.  Maybe that quote I stumbled across, for all that I protested that it was a note to myself, maybe it was after all a note to you as much as to me.  A note to us both.

‘I’m just saying you only get one life. There’s no God, no rules, no judgments, except for those you accept or create for yourself. And once it’s over, it’s over. Dreamless sleep forever and ever. So why not be happy while you’re here. Really. Why not?’

So my belated, extended answer to that question you posed at the end of the summer is this.

Because you and I, we could go deeper, deeper than we have before, deeper than anyone has before.  You know we could.  Even if we were not to be in the same place all of the time.

And because this elephant who never forgets doesn’t forget that at the start of the summer you said this, secret-publicly:

‘Because in so many words he can make me cry. Because he remembers. Because when I try to forget he never lets me, not really. Because he knows this is forever.

Because when I see the sun throwing long shadows on the streets or the sun on the moors pulling life out of the ground and setting it in a spinning honey thrum of heat, I think of him and I want him to see it too. To smell the same earthy scent of peat and baked stone, to taste the same slice of time, to touch the nape of my neck and look out into it all. Because underneath the everyday tone of my voice – wrapped in chores and work and the general pull and push of living, he can hear the hidden things; the soft secret places, the unspoken desires and the long-imagined dreams. Because in silence he hears me.

Because he can remember what it is like to be young and brimming with everything. Because he can imagine what it will be like, what it could be like – to grow older. Either together or apart or togetherapart. Because in less than two minutes and in just over two hundred words we can imagine it.’

I know you dislike me quoting your words back at you, but at present they are all I have.  And those are beautiful words which you chose to erase, together with all the many other letters concerning me (while hoping that I would not erase mine about you).  That is of course your right.  But they are words that anyone would want to preserve, had they had them written about themselves by a lover.  Together with the others, beautiful enough to last a lifetime, in terms of consolation.

You said it another way the year before, when without me your lexicon was incomplete.

‘I think to be in love is to see with another’s eyes. Or rather, for another’s eyes. When the mist hangs above the ocean after my swim, when the salt on my lips is perfect for licking, when the blue of the sky is shocking, when there is some such glittering event, unique to the moment, it is him I want to tell. Quite simply – through his eyes – life becomes a story to share.’

I know that what you wrote then and in ‘What’s happening’ is your definition of love and I believe it still holds.  And that’s why when you say as you have again recently that love and passion are but fleeting moments, that satisfaction is ever the elusive destination, I am puzzled and saddened.  Either you think making things last with P – or indeed with me – is worthwhile, or something so much more than worthwhile, or you don’t.  I’m not sure you really believe that love is that fleeting, that insubstantial.  You are telling yourself something convenient, to suit the mood of the moment, because the alternative is too hard, too much to contemplate.  And so you end up making do, rather than living as you might, full and out loud and at last, finally, not in secret.

But perhaps I am telling myself something convenient too.  That’s as maybe.  In the end I come back to the inference of my original answer, which is that best of all is not to last, or to burn, but to last and burn, flaming long and high.  To entwine imagination and reality ever more sinuously and sensuously.  Because once it’s over, it’s over.  Dreamless sleep forever and ever.


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