For an introduction to this series, look here
You cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs
It is only human to look for stability and certainty. How much we need will differ depending on our personality, experience and stage of life, but what Heraclitus seems to suggest here is the stuff of nightmares. In our dreams, especially those which are most terrifying, shapes shift: what in waking life seems most reliable and unchanging can transform into mortal danger. None of us can live with that degree of flux.
For some, the pandemic has been a waking nightmare. I’m thinking here not only of those who have suffered the disease itself, but also the many more who have had their sense of personal stability decentred. The threat of the illness itself has been compounded by the radical, constant and sometimes contradictory changes and messages about our daily lives. Governments and others in authority have been just as much in the dark as anyone else, and they haven’t been able to hide it. Policies change daily. It would be kind, but untrue to say that they have evolved, as that would give the impression of a continual, purposeful development. Instead there have been backtracks, diversions, roadblocks. I am reminded of driving through woods in a storm, watching for trees that might be about to fall, ready to stop and reverse when the way is blocked, turning off the main road onto narrow and unsignposted lanes.
It’s hard work, driving in those conditions, especially compared to the relaxed way we can normally take the main road, knowing all will be clear ahead. It’s hard work psychologically, living in a world in which the boundaries and frameworks of our lives are always changing. If there is any comfort to be had, it is that the stress many of us feel is not because of a fault or weakness in ourselves. The situation itself is stress-inducing, so feeling stressed is perfectly normal. The question is how we support one another and look after ourselves, within and through this time.