Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… I recently realized that all the stuff I’d ever written about Bonfire has been taken off the web. This simply cannot be tolerated. I’m not going to claim it’s worth reading for anyone else, but I still need to read it from time to time.
I wrote this originally back in the fall of 2000, my first semester as a prof at A&M. Some of it might be hard to follow, and if there’s anything too confusing, just post a comment and I’ll do my best to explain.
So here it is, along with as many of the original comments as I could scavenge. The original response to “[Fuwjax], what do you think about Bonfire?”
Now there’s a question, if ever I heard one. I think about Bonfire all the time. More than I think about Freebirds. Possibly even more than I think about math.
I love Bonfire. Bonfire did what it set out to do perfectly.
“[Fuwjax], you’ve got to be kidding… Bonfire is such a waste.”
Of what? Honestly, of what? Of oak trees? How much paper do you waste in taking notes in class? How useful are those notes when it really boils down to it? How often do you crack open that book you paid for? Just because you bought it, does that mean it’s not wasted? How about the countless reams of paper wasted on government red tape, or tucked away in a library you don’t even know exists?
“But [Fuwjax], come on, all that stuff is at least useful.”
Bonfire does what it sets out to do perfectly… let me explain.
Life in high school was stupid. Everything was about who you hung out with. It was all about appearance and what clothes you had and who you took to homecoming and whether you played football.
And then I got to A&M. I wanted a new start. I wanted to be respected for who I am, not who I know.
I tried to join all kinds of clubs. My resume was week, my people skills were poor. They didn’t care who I was as a person, they just cared about who I was on paper.
I was so incredibly angry. I didn’t leave my room for a month except to go to class and Sbisa. I went home every weekend.
But I promised an old friend, actually Rick, the owner of Zapatos, that I would try Bonfire just once.
I went and I hated it. It was hard work. And that first day we dropped so many trees we couldn’t even carry them all out. I never hurt so bad in my entire life.
But that next weekend I went back out.
I only missed one cut in the seven years I’ve been here.
You see Bonfire is different. Bonfire removes all the stupid stuff.
Everyone is dirty. You wear old clothes that you never wash. You use words your mom would slap you for using. You sweat, you bleed, you blister.
And the whole point is… well, there is no point.
You see, that’s the beautiful thing. There was no reason to be out there. We weren’t building homes for the homeless, we weren’t cleaning up trash on the side of the road. Those aren’t bad causes, but you must understand, what we did was above “causes.”
Everyone had their own motivation. Some did it for Aggie Spirit. Some did it to push themselves farther than they’d ever been pushed. I did it for the freshmen. But there wasn’t a real reason.
And everyone hated you for it. People would laugh at you when you’d walk across campus. They’d cross the street so they wouldn’t have to even look at you. I had someone once tell me I was a waste of oxygen.
I built Bonfire that year for that person.
You see, Bonfire taught us, in the craziest possible way, to love.
I started to see people as people. It didn’t matter what their major was or where they came from. It didn’t matter what they did in high school or how they did on their chem test.
You could tell if people were strong; not just in their arms, but their hearts and souls and heads. You could see if they were in it for the glory. You could tell if they considered you a brother; if they believed that Aggies should respect those who came before and serve those who come after. You could see the fire in their eyes… the passion, the desire. You could see, even if it was just for a couple months, how good it is just to be alive, to belong to a group not because you were good at something, or because you knew the right person. For the first time in my life, people liked me only because I wanted to belong, because I would be there for them and they would be there for me. Not just while building a stupid pile of worthless wood, but whenever they needed me, any time for the rest of my life, I’d be there.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to rant. I didn’t mean to start crying.
And I am so sorry. I wish I could have known the future. I wish this time last year I could have said something or done something to change what happened. I am so sorry that something this incredible, this perfect was taken from you.
And I want my friends back.
But this is where we are: 12 of my friends are dead and I can’t share something I passionately believe in with you.
I don’t like how the administration handled this. I don’t like how the KTFB guys handled this. I don’t like how anyone handled this.
The important thing to everyone is that stupid pile of wood. That’s it. I don’t give a concrete wall in water about that pile of wood. I want something, anything that builds unity, that ties us together as Aggies, that’s so overwhelmingly pointless that the only reason you would ever even consider participating is out of love for your fellow Ags.
Here’s the bottom line, ladies and gents… To my knowledge there is only one way to learn how to love, and that’s to get out there and hurt and work and put your life on the line for someone who doesn’t care about your effort. That’s why Christ was born. That’s why I built the hell. That’s why I teach.
I wish you could have learned what Bonfire really was.
What do I think about Bonfire? I think it taught me more about respect, love, steadfastness, perseverance, courage, strength, passion, compassion, intensity, commitment, and leadership than anything I have ever, or could ever experience. I learned how to survive, handle, and ultimately triumph over cold, hunger, hatred, insult, ridicule, anger, discrimination, and sleeplessness. I learned what it means to work hard, to help out, to play, to fight… to live.
What do I think about Bonfire? It was Life-in-a-Box. Some people try to package that up and sell it… Life’s little instructions and Be all that you can be and just do it… but we had it for free.
What do I think about Bonfire? It’s like my grandpa. He’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me and I don’t know what I’d ever do without him.
What do I think about Bonfire? If you could see through my tears, you could see it in my eyes.
What do I think about Bonfire? What could I ever not think about Bonfire?
What do I think about Bonfire?
What do I think about Bonfire?
What do I think about Bonfire?
I love you
what do you think well happen in the future with bonfire?
First I want to say that what you wrote about bonfire is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard about bonfire. I think this what you wrote should have been on the batallion for every one to see.
THIS IS ANOTHER TOUGHT: WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THIS ELECTIONS?
HOPEFULLY ILL READ YOUR OPINION SOON.
i have a feeling this may become quite a long message and i appologize (in advance) I saw the last Fightin’ Texas Aggie Bonfire burn in 1998, it was my first semester in college (Blinn) and i thought bonfire was the most pointless excuse to drink beer i had ever seen. but i went and had a blast. i had no idea that the next year, that big, pointless, stack of wood would change my life forever. Prior to
November 18, 1999 i had absolutely NO desire to be an aggie. i hated this school and everything it stood for. i thought it was completely overrated, aggies were SOOO incredibly conceited and condecending, and i HATED tradition. i am, by nature, a nonconformist. i had plans to transfer to a university up north in spring ‘00; i had an apartment, a job, a roomate up there,everything. Then it happened. my first concern was that i knew someone on stack. i was so afraid that someone i knew and loved was burried beneath that Godforsaken pile of logs. as the day progressed i stayed glued to the tv, the radio, anything that would tell me what was going on. as it turns out, i didn’t know anyone. i went to the memorial at reed anyway. i have NEVER felt such a loss. i felt as if 12 of my closest friends had been killed. i don’t know why, but for some reason the Aggie Spirit came alive in me that night. every day of my life following November 18, 1999 i have lived as a proud Fightin’ Texas Aggie. i cancled all my plans for school up north, applied to A&M and here i am. And let me assure you, i bleed maroon and white. thanks for listening to my ramblings.
God Bless Bonfire and the Aggie Spirit.
Bonfire ‘99 was my first bonfire, I lost 12 brothers and sisters that day. When i tell the story to non-Ags I always add that it was good to be an Aggie those days after the fall. We desprately clung together, like we did at cut or stack, because we were united by Bonfire. Bonfire was one of the greatest things about Texas A&M, I have never seen it burn in person, though I would like to. I would build it 100 times over, just to be out there with my brothers and sisters again. [Fuwjax], thank you for being my brother and thank you for shedding light on to the ashes of Bonfire for our younger brothers and sister.
[Fuwjax], I just want to thank you for everything. For your simple thoughts page, for your help in dreaded 141, and for your sense of humor. God Bless you.
You are an inspiration to many… Dont listen to the whiners in class. They are too shallow to take to heart. Listen to your mind and your heart, they will be with you the longest. Love life, and enjoy the rest. Peace.
i read your Simple thoughts on Bonfire and was moved so deeply. I passed it along to some friends and family of mine, and my oldest sister, (Class ‘95), e-mailed me back almost immediately saying that she was sitting at her desk at work crying. I would like to share one exerpt of her e-mail with you tho…
“I hate that you won’t be able to experience your bonfire your freshman year. I understand that those who don’t understand want ‘something done’ so the same tragedy doesn’t reoccur. But, you’re teacher said it all when he said, “You see, Bonfire taught us, in the craziest possible way, to love.” It’s when we see people as people, not as a blonde or brunette, not as a boy or a girl, not as a jock or a geek, but as a human being, that we see Christ in each and every person.”
I found this one to be the most touching paragraph of her long e-mail. Thank you for sharing your opinion…and i do think that that is the same opinion that a lot of people share. I am certain that my sister agrees with you…she wrote:
I know you think I’m a big softy, but when you feel so strongly about something and someone else can write the words you’re feeling…well, it brings tears to my
eyes. And always will!
I just had my husband read your incredible and passionate thoughts on bonfire. He is
a graduate of A&M and worked on bonfire for five years. I remember when the bonfire tragedy happened and the way he cried. I remember how strong the need for him was to visit the bonfire site and pay his respect to the kids that were lost. I just watched him get tears in his eyes as he read your thoughts on bonfire. You and he and all the others that were privileged enough to work on bonfire understand. I regret that many of us Ags will never know what you two know, the love of one Ag for another. This love still lives strong in my husband and he worked on bonfire in the ‘70’s. That is what bonfire is, it is forever.
I just wanted to let you know how what you said about Bonfire made me cry. although i have never worked on Bonfire and it looks like never will be able to, I have seen others sweat and hurt together to build Bonfire. I truly wish that i along with class of ‘04 could join you in your pride and pain of Bonfire. What you said on that
page made me cry not because of sadness or pain due to the fact that it will never be that way again. But because what you said on that page is exactly what i have tried to say to those who ask me what i think about Bonfire. I didn’t feel right not telling you that.
I just was one of the three people that you said would read you’re “excerpt” about the bonfire. I dont know much about it but i just wanted to tell you that that was really cool and I think that should be on the main webpage so everyone can see it.
I was just number four to read your ‘Simple Thoughts’. I am a transfer student this year from Arizona and have heard a lot about bonfire, I was not sure what to think about it, good or bad.. You shed a different light on the subject. I am still not sure what to think about it but I understand and appreciate your passion for it. I seem to remember a country girl once giving a similar speech. You should have
been a farmer or rancher, the same disciplines apply!
I just read your “simple thoughts” page, and I am typing through my tears right now. I just wanted to share with you that although, we, as freshman will not experience Bonfire the way that you did, you touched at least one of us with the beauty of it through your “ramblings”. Thank you, and I am so sorry about your friends. I have no doubt that they were amazing people,
Your “Simple Thoughts” have been the best thing that I’‘ve ever read concerning Bonfire. It was gorgeous and so incredibly honest, that is becomes captivating…so much so that you cant hold back the tears, so you just cry. And I did. And I love you too.
Thanks [Fuwjax]…for sharing what Bonfire is all about. I regret missing out on all those feelings…but it will always live on through people like you who understand. Thanks for making me realize it’’s more than a two-sided issue, you changed my
[Fuwjax], nice thiughts about bonfire. I agreecompletely.
I just read your thoughts on Bonfire. I must say those were the most poignant words I’‘ve heard about bonfire. As a freshman, I’‘m sorry I will miss it the next two years and I will cherish any kind of bonfire if it has the feeling you so personally described. And God bless your friends you unfortunately lost.
Okay, I jsut read your simple thougts page…I never thought you of all people could make me cry like that. The only tears I’‘ve shed because of you were over that lovely 29 I made of your first test. I just want to say that what you wrote was beautiful. I wish I could have known more about it.
howdy I just read your thoughts about bonfire and relized your not as shallow as you seem
It hurts me now to see the lack of Unity within the structure of the dorms now days. I, for my first two years here, enjoyed the friendships I made, ones not possible without the kinship brought about by Bonfire. [Fuwjax], you are truely an amazing person, with an amazing mind. Thanks for your thoughts on Bonfire. If you want to read a poem I wrote about The Collapse of 99, click that link. It was written the day of her fall.
Tom Payne II
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