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Fragments on Fragments #3: Being Human in a Pandemic

Fragments on Fragments #3: Being Human in a Pandemic


3 If you do not hope, you will not find that which is not hoped for, since it is unattainable and inaccessible


How can you hope for what’s not hoped for? Heraclitus frequently justifies his ancient nickname ‘the Obscure’. But it’s worth living with this fragment for a little while, not because it will suddenly ‘make sense’, but in order to let it shake us up a little. That’s what paradoxes like this are for, to push us off the tramlines of our normal thoughts, to make us try a new direction.


It’s not at all obvious what a way out would look like from a pandemic. This coronavirus has proved very efficient at spreading itself, and very difficult to dislodge from society. The more we meet each other, the more opportunities for it to spread. And there aren’t many of us who would look forward to a lifetime of spatially distanced conversations with our friends and families. A way of living which allows us to meet each other without restriction or anxiety does indeed seem unattainable and inaccessible.


When I have the time and headspace, I love to lose myself in a jigsaw puzzle, preferably 1000 pieces. Most of the time it’s hugely frustrating, playing with shapes and colours in your head, and sometimes only keeping on going because you have faith that the puzzle maker won’t have left out a piece deliberately. It is that worrying at the problem like a dog with a bone which makes the moment of connection all the more satisfying. The solution suddenly (or not so suddenly) appears, where there appeared to be chaos.


It’s a trivial example, but I do think it illustrates what hope means at the moment. It’s not a sunny optimism that everything’s OK. Hope now is realistic about the broken pieces in ourselves and in our society: but keeps on looking for the ways in which we can put back together small areas of harmony. We build the future we cannot yet imagine, putting it together piece by piece.


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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