When the telos gets broken ….


I didn’t post yesterday because it was one of those energy sapping days.  I foolishly read an overheated news piece involving millions of pounds of investment into developing a new kind of nitrogen fertiliser that will contain GM bacteria that allow cereal crops to make their own nitrogen – marvellous (I’m kidding – it’s potentially disastrous). And so it went on.  I tried to write using the new and greatly improved Project Gutenberg editing interface but I simply couldn’t get the hang of it and in the end a whole chunk of yesterday’s post disappeared into the ether. I spent hours on the allotment with Madame, planting out, and then more hours trying to make the diverter on the water storage system work properly instead of sending most of the rainwater under the shed. After more hours today I ripped out the old system and installed (bodged) a new one that looks messy but at least captures all the rainwater. Nothing went disastrously wrong and yet nothing went well either.

It’s not that I feel depressed – I know what that feels like and it’s horrible and disabling; but thinking about it today, I reckon I’ve nailed the cause for my sense of unrest.  There are many things that I think we need, to flourish as humans, but among them are two that are particularly under threat in the present pandemic. The first is telos – the sense of where we’re going and what we’re for – what we’re intended to become; and the second is agency – the capacity to direct our energies towards objects that we choose freely.  When things are going well the first – telos – gives us a sense of what it is we’re growing towards, and the second – agency – allows us the freedom to conduct our lives in the way that leads to our goal. When these are broken or denied to us we lose any sense of belonging and it feels as if we’re in a tunnel that may emerge somewhere we didn’t choose and don’t want to be, and that’s when we lose any sense of delight in things that normally fill us with joy.

Without being too dramatic about it, the flow of life has turned into a torrent and the lies, evasions and incompetence of some of our elected leaders suggests that they took a wrong turn some while back and are actually taking us towards the rapids instead of away from them.  Cue dramatic music but also a huge sense of disappointment and loss.

The hedgerows are full of flowers, cow parsley, mayflowers, dandelions and all the early risers.  The horse chestnuts are laden with blossom  and when the sun shines the earth seems to embrace it.  This should be one of the peak moments of the year and yet it’s tinged with loss and bereavement. We plod on, missing our families and friends; missing our normal textured lives and hoping  – some of us may even be praying – that we can wrestle a blessing out of this darkness.


Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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