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Fragments on Fragments #15: Being Human in a Pandemic

Fragments on Fragments #15: Being Human in a Pandemic


15 The way upward and the way downward is one and the same


This fragment was one of the two that T S Eliot placed at the beginning of his Four Quartets. The final section of the last of the Quartets begins:


We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.


One of the advantages of fragments is that they can be taken to mean many things. Eliot makes them his own, just as I have been doing in my own way, for his own purpose and his own time. So without claiming that Eliot is giving the ‘correct’ interpretation, we can use him as a way in to this saying. 


I think Heraclitus and Eliot would agree on one thing: this saying doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter which way you go, you’ll end up in the same place anyway. What I take from Eliot is the idea that in any discovery, in any new understanding, there is an element of re-discovery. What we know now for the first time was there waiting to be seen and grasped all the time. The trivial example of jigsaw puzzles comes to mind; the piece can be sitting in plain sight, but until you see it as the piece for a certain place, it doesn’t have any helpful meaning. 


So I am led to wonder what it is that I need to see differently, understand otherwise, in order to bring myself back into internal order. Probably it won’t be anything I can see easily or immediately, and it won’t happen without effort, even if the effort is the effort to be still. But the encouragement of Heraclitus (and Eliot) is that the effort is worthwhile. However disordered it may feel at the moment, the world will come back together again, it will make sense again. We will rediscover a place of freedom and harmony.


Fragments on Fragments are written by the Right Reverend Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon in the Church of England. He introduces the whole series here. Alongside the words is an image by Alison Clark of a broken sand dollar, gilded in reference to the Japanese practice of kintsugi: you can find more of her work here.


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