When something is broken, we as human beings make it our goal to repair it; however, not everything can be repaired, and perhaps not everything should be repaired. Elizabeth Spelman talks about physical ruins such as the Acropolis in Greece in order to make hint to physical things that shouldn’t be repaired because of their great teachings about ancient societies in both their life and death. We cannot make “Babylon, Palmyra, Troy, Angkor Wat, the Acropolis, Tintern Abbey, [or] Machu Picchu” (Spelman 103) as whole as they once were, in fact we may run the risk of destroying them altogether in an attempt to repair them, so therefore we leave them alone to rot into extinction without further human touch. So what should be done with abstractions that are be left to the weathering of interactions, such as relationships and ideas, along with those ruins?
Ruins can function as some of the most useful tools for us to see the past. Whether it be practical history or connections to the spiritual world, ruins can offer us insight into the past. Some people see “ruins as [an underscore of] the difference between imperfect, palpably mortal humans and a perfect, immortal God” (Spelman 106-107), personifying the spiritual aspect of disrepair. Ruins show humans that we are not entirely good at making things last. Our cities crumble, our civilizations fail, and we survive solely on a succession of consecutive failures which only stand to exist so that we can progress more toward perfection. We do not attempt to repair these things but instead to one-up them in another inevitable failure. It is these failures, in essence, that make us human and divide us from God, who is perceived to be the highest standard of perfection that we only know how to achieve through death, a standard which lacks the need for repair as everything created will live on in perfection. In a more specific example, however, “at least some contemporary American Indians [see] the ruins of ancient tribal communities…not [as] places where ancestors used to live but where their spirits still reside” (Spelman 110). Native Americans view their surroundings as the events that had occurred within them, according to this observation by Spelman, so upon seeing abandoned villages of their ancestors, they see it as still filled with spiritual life, thus not needing repair. In this sense, our dead relatives can teach us a lot about our apparent desperate need for repair that perhaps is not necessary at all.
Repair is also questionable in use for human bonds. The examples that Spelman relied on was that of Holocaust survivors and how their minds and attitudes are scarred by the atrocities that they prevailed through, but sometimes repair isn’t necessary on a much smaller scale. Quite vaguely, Spelman closed chapter six with the words “the forces of evil…cannot do irreparable harm. But sometimes they can” (Spelman 123), which can be interpreted in several ways. This first depends on one’s definition of evil: villainous people, school bullies, death, etc. In my definition, evil surrounds death and departure. Death might mean putting down the dog that you’ve had for fifteen years. You’ll probably get over it with the sight of a new puppy in Fido’s place, making this evil not irreparable, but what of when a relationship ends? We all know the saga of the couple who goes through a “rough break-up” twice a month, but what of the more final break-ups, the ones in which there is no turning back from? It could end from infidelity or a lack of love but either way it will be followed by the death of a relationship and the departure of both parties. In that sense, the evil that followed their relationship is irreparable. This evil fractured the lives of two people and brought them apart.
Irreparability is very flimsy. If not caught in time, repair is not an option for a civilization or relationship. But if caught in time, repair can be done and either can continue to stand strong. It all lies along the line of whether or not humans are in good enough of a conditioned to repair other things rather than themselves and their willingness to do so.