Tales of a Divided City: In Praise of Potholes - Pedro Tabensky

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This article was originally published in Grocotts Mail and has been republished with the permission of its author.

This is the sixth installment in a series of monthly reflections on our city. The aim is to generate conversation about our place and its meanings.

I must confess to being rather fond of potholes. They express something fundamental about life that many of us wish to conceal, to keep in the background not affecting our daily routines. And they are a good excuse for reflecting on mindsets that should, I think, be transcended.

In our divided city potholes are omnipresent, reminding us that all must come to pass. To be sure, residents of the settler village spend a great deal of time fretting over potholes and their meaning. Expressions are commonplace of heartfelt frustration at the political dispensation that seems quite incapable of containing nature's relentless reclamation project. But settler village residents do not spend enough time reflecting on the background that makes the human drama possible and which plays a significant
role in making it the case that potholes are things that elicit passion born, I suggest, of fear of our vulnerability and finiteness.

Potholes disclose the earth underneath the layer of asphalt that separates our divided city from the threats of the natural order that is both our home and our foe. A moment of contemplation reveals that our divided city is a thin veneer of humanity resting on inhospitable terrain. Were road crews to put a halt to the incessant patching or, more generally, were we not permanently busying ourselves with maintenance projects, unremitting forces would quickly reclaim the veneer that is now our divided city.

I like the fact that our city is out of the way. Metropoles, by contrast, tend to blind us even more than our city does to the fact that, beyond the dramas of daily life, there is a natural order that makes it the case that we must permanently busy ourselves with maintenance projects.

I am a keen observer of ruins, how they are subject to the forces of decay, blindly beavering away to make matter available for other things, gnawing away from above and below until no signs are left of lives long past. In my mind, these ruins are a metaphor of life. Without the presence of busy caretakers, the realities that we construct and inhabit would quickly be reclaimed.

Potholes remind me that we are vulnerable creatures fighting an ultimately losing battle against decay.

I observe the landscape of my face reflected on a mirror. And I think of the potholes, of the ruins, of the cracks on the walls of most houses in the settler village.

At least two existential options are available to us in light of the indisputable fact of decay, one involving repression and the other not, or at least not so much. Repression is always avoidance of a painful realization. And we tend quite understandably to be pain avoiders. But pain avoidance often comes at the high price of divorce from reality.

Recognizing that we are deeply vulnerable and finite creatures is a source of much distress, for we are creatures who strongly desire to be special in the eyes of creation, to be significantly exempt from those forces that have moulded the world into the thing that it is, that guarantee that everything must end. This deep understanding, albeit for the most part subconscious, of
our precarious condition, I surmise, is one of the principal sources of the rage against the potholes.

If, on the other hand, we take the route of acceptance, then we must admit to ourselves that we are a part of creation, subject to its laws and living off borrowed matter. This may be hard to accept, but it would be less so if we cultivate the art of humility, that is, if we work on accepting that we are vulnerable and finite.

This should make us less judgmental and more prone to offer a helping hand, and to accept a helping hand from others. The cultivation of humility can help us more fully recognize that we are part of a we, that very little can be accomplished on our own, that we are subject to forces which can easily bend us out of shape, and that we need the help of others to shield us from
the harshness.

But recognizing our vulnerability and finiteness can also bring about bitterness born out of a realization that things are not as good as they could be. One of the central causes of bitterness is the inability to accept. The person on the path of humility, on the other hand, has learnt to accept her condition. This acceptance, however, cannot be equated with complacency, although it cannot be denied that there are complacent forms of humility, but that is not the sort that I am here defending. The person who
is humble in the right sort of way recognizes that patching potholes is an on-going endeavour, exemplary of the endeavours that define our existence.

And such a person will be more able to stretch out to others. Rather than keeping the distance of the self-righteous, the humble person will fully recognize our shared humanity, a humanity defined by our struggles, our need permanently to busy ourselves to keep afloat.

Article by: Pedro Tabensky

Article Source: Grocotts Mail