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Kosmopolis Institute Publications Day 26: Things Fall Apart

Day 26: Things Fall Apart

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.*

This will be my last blog regarding the Winter School 2011. Today is the Wednesday of the week following the ending of the School, and I need to round off things for my own sanity.

On the 4th May my closest friend was in a motorbike accident. For nearly 6 weeks he was in Intensive Care, fighting internal injuries. He was healing. He was getting better. On the 14th of June 2011 an infection attacked his weak body, he grew weary, and he could no longer fight. That evening, he passed away. For 4 weeks I walked in a world that had been stripped of colour, a grey world of fog and shadows. I didn’t mourn, I didn’t weep. Something in me died along with him that night.

I couldn’t bear the idea of the Winter School starting on the 11th July. How could I do this? How could I face people who didn’t understand what I was going through? How could I engage with academic shit when all I could think about was him?

I remember the Sunday evening before the School started – we all had supper together in House Tutu. We all squeezed into the kitchen, sitting on counters and tables and sinks and ate our packed suppers on our laps. We looked down at our food throughout the meal. We were awkward, shy, withdrawn. Countries grouped together and murmured under their breaths to each other. When we had to squeeze past other to get out, we avoided eye contact. I thought this was going to be a bloody disaster – how could we ever reconcile such a diverse bunch – older, younger, theoretical, practical, religious, non-religious, homosexual, anti-homosexuality, philosopher, idealist?

Looking back, it was in fact the Winter School and the people of the Winter School who put colour back into my grey existence. It started with colourful individuals who like mad artists painted polka dots onto my grey trees and rainbows on my grey grass. I revolted at first: how dare they intrude into my sorrow and paint polka dots and rainbows without consideration for me?! But I realised that I had to understand the rainbows and polka dots and integrate them into the grey. And slowly the colours spread. The academia threw paint on my face, and the mirrors reflected the colour. The individuals drew multi-coloured zebras and bright pink windmills and jumped in the paint and left coloured footprints and handprints all over. I had to open my eyes and wipe away the fog to try to understand. Colour came back to parts of my world.

It was the Pluralism Effect at work. It was like stepping into sunshine after sitting in a dark room. It hurt. My eyes watered. I tried to block out the sun. I couldn’t see much. But slowly my eyes had to adjust and I was able to pick out outlines, shapes, and then colours. Things started to fall into context and details became wholes.

But at the same time as things started to fall into place, the things I thought I knew started to fall even more apart. The quote by Epictetus on the pictures we could select “It is impossible to begin to learn what which one thinks one already knows” started to weigh on my mind. I had to challenge the assumption to have any way of trying to understand anything which the course might offer – and this would be to neutralise that which I thought I already knew and to start to branch off from that neutral basis. I had to challenge assumptions both that I had about others and that others might have about me.

Looking back, I don’t know if I have fully dealt with the questions let alone found the answers, but at least I have once more the desire to search for them. I feel motivated and have a renewed interest to engage with questions not only of identity, but with the sustainable development of issues of knowledge seeking and its continuous journey.

On Thursday the 4th August we heard that Fugencio’s brother had passed away in a motorcar accident in Uganda. This was his second brother to depart – the first 15 years earlier. When I heard the news, my body turned cold. It couldn’t be. I had just received a renewal of faith in my search for understanding life, but always, always death is not far away. But this time I could understand Fulgi’s pain, his denial, his acceptance, his uncertainty. For it is only through life that we comprehend death. It is only through the familiar that we can embrace diversity. It is only through the dark that we can understand light.

The Winter School of Pluralism and Development had allowed me to learn this.

"It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give."**

Helen-Mary Cawood

*W.B. Yeats - “He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven”

** Ursula K. Le Guin – “The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia”