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Fragments on Fragments #27: Being Human in a Pandemic

Fragments on Fragments #27: Being Human in a Pandemic

27 Kindling a light in the night; death and life touch each other

This is my take on one of the most difficult of Heraclitus’ sayings. One word stood out for me: the word which I have rendered in English as both ‘kindling’ and ‘touch’.

The absence of touch has only occasionally been spoken of, but I am sure that it has been one of the most painful and demoralising aspects of the pandemic for very many. Touch is intimate and powerful, which is why inappropriate forms of touch can be so damaging. But equally, touch which affirms and expresses love is an extraordinarily important way of maintaining our health, psychologically, physically and spiritually.

Too many people live without touch already; it has been the experience of far more of us over the last few months. We manage, but our sense of our selves is under gradual, almost imperceptible, but continual attack. Reaching out in the night to make a light in the darkness feels to me a bit like reaching out to touch or be touched: it’s about feeling less alone, making a connection which reduces our isolation.

Recognising the depth of need is an important first step, because in Western culture at least touch is regarded with great caution, or even fear: the phrase ‘close but not touching’ is interestingly common. To know what it is that one is missing – and to know that it’s a genuine loss, not something in one’s own head – can be one small step towards living with the loss. But only one small step: for many of us, reaching out to touch will have to continue to be virtual, and this is one area in which digital connection is a very poor substitute. We are grieving for touch.

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