Sunday, November 2, 2008

Burn, Baby, Burn

About a week ago, Jack burned his Harvard Law degree.

And it made me sad.

It made me sad, but Jack had his reasons. In fact he has gone into a lot of detail in explaining his reasons in both his responses to the comments to the above referenced post and in this subsequent post.

What I am struggling to understand is why it made me sad. I immediately felt a sadness in the pit of my stomach as soon as I read it. I was feeling a loss. It was my loss, not Jack's loss. Why would Jack burning his degree make me feel sad? I would have thought my first reaction would have been "Way to go Jack." After all, it is just a piece of paper and can easily be replaced. Call up the University and they will send you a new one, probably for a small fee.

I understand the work and effort that goes into getting a college degree. I have three of them. That's not to brag, but to illustrate that I do understand what it takes to get multiple college degrees and what a significant personal accomplishment it is.

Therefore, when you burn one of them, you are burning a part of yourself. It may be a part that you want to put behind you. It may be a part that no longer serves its purpose. It may be a part that needs to be discarded so that you can move on forward to bigger and better things. But burning seems so destructive and permanent. I don't think I could do that to myself. I guess I am taking it very personal.

It is interesting how we use fire to symbolize our desire for change or to symbolize the end of something. All of us either have or know someone that has burned pictures, letters, or other things from someone we no longer want any connection to. In my case it was a friend burning pictures of an ex-husband. In the sixties, we burned our draft cards. And what better way to piss off conservatives than to burn an American flag in protest over something. We also burn people, in effigy. And Buddhists burn themselves, in reality. I remember my parents burning their mortgage when it was finally paid off. We don't do that very much any more because we never pay off our mortgages.

Several years ago I got out of the corporate rat race and went into business for myself. I didn't even think about burning my degrees. Of course I was not making the wholesale changes in my lifestyle that Jack is. I have never had to show my degrees for anything. They sit in a box somewhere is a storage unit. I could burning them and still continue to do what I do.

But I think I would lose a very deep personal part of myself. It is a part that does not get shared. It is for me only. And it makes me sad to think that someone else would burn that part of themselves.

But then again, a degree is just a piece of paper, so...

I've kind of rambled around here, somewhat incoherently. And obviously I still have not really figured much out. Jack's action has unexpectedly touched something inside of me. Something, I guess, I need to get more in touch with.

Wish me luck.


  1. Maybe there is no reason for your sadness. Maybe you had aspirations at one point that matched Jack's achievements and what you are feeling is just a projection? Maybe there is something else happening in your life that is totally unrelated that is causing you some emotion that just happened to bubble up when you read his story.

    I am blathering on here. I hope your spirits lift up again. :D

  2. Jerry - it made me sad too. I understand. I have very mixed feelings about this but as always i wish Jack well and hope it all works out for him. I suppose part of me wishes that I could only have had the opportunities that Jack has. Although I am a lawyer myself but I am simply not in the same league as Jack and never will be.

  3. I agree with you, after reading I think it is a great amount to be sad about. The degrees, whatever they symbolize do represent a large chunk of ones life.

  4. I was sad too. I commented on his blog last week. He should use that degree to help others; by doing service .. we do more for ourselves spiritually.

    Betty Ann

  5. And maybe also, right or wrong, we may feel invalidated as well.