By the October 9th end of the MBA Launch, the gathering of students in Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre had (d)evolved into a cacophony of hacking coughs. If you closed your eyes, it was kind of amazing. The coughs told a story of shaking hands, trading stories, nights out, celebratory hugs, biking side by side in the rain, cracking up together long after we should have been in bed. I was struck down by the class cold twice in three weeks and still decided there was something great about the closed loop we’d become.
When I found myself stockpiling Lemsip for the third time in six weeks, however, I started to question the loop. I shook my fist at the world. Why are we hermetically sealed in this building, circling each other all day?! Are we serious right now?? All of this is, of course, a metaphor for the more inescapable claustrophobia of assigned seats and name tags in 85-person sections. I muted good-humored WhatsApp groups and turned off Facebook push notifications. It was clear that I’d spent too long in the monotone expat bubbles of the global South: the noise up North is deafening. Being in the know could make a sane man mad.
I was ready to leave an Avril-shaped hole in the wall.
Then several other things transpired, setting into motion my full-on, slow-motion meltdown. It was a thing to behold, friends. On Sunday, in my very characteristic effort to handle things in isolation, I stood shivering for five hours on an airfield with the Oxford Gliding Club. I watched my fellow gliders go up in their engineless crafts, taking off and landing soundlessly, circling above in unseen, 5-minute loops. They all returned to earth looking as though they’d learned something secret alone up there.
At last, I climbed into a motorized glider with a stranger named Julian who took us high above Bicester, pointing out the hilly bit where Americans buried nuclear bombs once upon a time. He then clasped his hands behind his head and left me to my own devices. I flew in my own wide loops up there, above the fields and the motorway and the steam-spitting plant. I was cloaked in all the solitude I’d been missing, yet nothing revealed itself to me. I felt cheated out of a life-changing experience in the quiet of the clouds.
I shook my fist at the world. (I do this a lot.)
When I landed, though, the first thing I wanted to do was share my flight on Facebook. Not to add to the noise, but to invite people into something silent that had happened to me. And, since I was logged in anyway, I figured I’d share my meltdown with the entire MBA class. There are no words to describe what the unanticipated outpouring of caring did for me. Only now, at the start of Week 7, do I understand that the loop that is Said Business School is not someone’s hilarious social experiment. I see why we’re sectioned off, why we stare into the same eyes across the horse-shoe lecture halls, why the common room tables force us into groups of 8, why we’re funneled into study groups of 5, why there are colleges and societies, why people row. We are so much more than the sum of our parts: I’d always thought that was mere propaganda. We are the invisible net under the tightrope whenever one of us is up there alone. And if I can fall apart and have an MBA crew on hand if I only signal, it’s almost worth it to be ill, like clockwork, every fortnight. (A special shout out, if I may, to Dr. Dana Brown, who works wonders at 8am on Mondays.)Back to top of article