In chapter six of Spelman’s Repair, she writes of what we perhaps should not repair, despite our natural inclination to the past. Ruins are her first example, crumbling and decaying remnants of ancient cities and monuments. We should preserve them for many reasons, besides the fact that they are strangely alluring for morbid joy or reminding ourselves of our own mortality. For one, we preserve them for their authentic connection to the past. Many people today can stand where great philosophers taught and religious ceremonies were held.
If ruins speak of and speak to humans’ relationship to their gods and to nature, they also mediate our relations with other humans, both living and dead. Plato may no longer be with us, but standing in the Acropolis, the living philosopher can imagine being in conversation with him. (107)
An even greater connection can be made by someone if the original structures were constructed by ancestors of their racial identity rather than just our precursors as human beings. Ruins can also remind us not only that we may die, but that we can make mistakes. A reminder of mortality can be as simple as watching a clock for too long, but ruins show that even the mighty will crumble and fall at a misstep. The ruins of Rome bring to mind their belligerent concurring and over reliance on slaves as a crutch for their society’s economy. Repairing ruins destroys their meaning, almost as if we are pretending the past never existed.
But not everything that breaks can be fixed. The skills we repairing animals have to learn include the self reflexive one of coming to grips with the limits of those skills and figuring out what to do in the face of the irreparable. In many cases the judgement that is something is irreparable is not straightforward and the declaration of irreparability represents the result of struggles over when, where, and how to use our reparative resources. Moreover, both reparability and irreparability have their consolations, so we can’t assume that declarations of irreparabilty are always and everywhere met with dismay or disappointment.
Thinking in terms of what we should not repair reminds me of a much more personal struggle that every human will go through in their own life time. Some may see their current life as ruins, far from the glory days that they once had. A star athlete in college gets injured before going professional, growing old and unable to let their memories rest or seek out new enjoyable experiences. A man laid off from his dream job becomes depressed and develops an eating disorder. A happy romantic couple breaks up and neither one of them are truly ready to have another person in their lives yet but both immediately search desperately anyway. Not only are the damages of time unrepairable through restoration, but searching for repair in our lives because we can not accept what is broken, not accepting that we sometimes do not have control over what is broken, or not realizing that we were never really “broken” to begin with, is simply destructive.