Did you know London begins on the A22 just outside Whyteleafe? Unless you’re on the train, and then it’s probably somewhere like Purley Beeches. This is when you’re travelling from Sussex.
Of course that’s just my opinion. There are actual signs up on roads that say things like ‘Welcome to the London Borough of Croydon’. I really wanted to stop the car the other day and stand one side of the sign and then the other, saying ‘London’, ‘Not London’, ‘London’, ‘Not London’. But we were running late to see our daughter and it wouldn’t have gone down well.
I’ve always found boundaries fascinating. When does London stop and not-London begin? When do you stop being young and become middle-aged? At what moment does it become dark? What colour is dark blue paint and if you add white, at what point does it start becoming mid or light blue? (Then there are all the silly blues you get these days, like cyan or teal or duck egg. Add them into the mix and it’s dizzying).
I was listening to a fascinating programme on the radio this week which introduced me to a particular type of paradox. A paradox is something which challenges commonly held assumptions requiring an explanation because it runs counter to other beliefs or opinions we might hold. One well-known paradox is the Bald Man Paradox. You have probably heard of it. I hadn’t.
It goes something like this: We would all agree that someone who has no hair is bald. If the person then grew one hair, we would still describe him as bald. Two hairs? Probably still bald. Three? Yup. This would in all likelihood continue for a while but if the man had ten thousand hairs (bags not be the counter here), then we would say he was not-bald.
But here’s the thing – at what point does a person become bald?? It’s not as if we would call him bald with 99 hairs but not-bald with 100. Baldness is not a quantifiable state. We can’t say how many hairs you would need to be not-bald or how few you would need to be bald. For a person who likes boundaries, this is a nightmare! If I ever lose a significant amount of hair, I would have to shave the lot or wear a wig. Just saying.
My hunch is that most of us quite like boundaries. We like to know how fast we should drive, what time the train leaves, whether we can go out and how far. Life is a tiny bit stressful at the moment for the nation’s boundary lovers. Is it safe to go back to work? Should I go to the beach or another beauty spot? Who exactly is it OK to invite into my garden? You will have an opinion on the answers to all these questions, as I do. But I can guarantee that the way a roomful, I mean a garden-full, of people interpret the guidance will be very different (and when I say a garden-full, obviously a smallish garden with six people, socially distanced, wearing masks, unless sharing a BBQ or you’d have to cut a hole to eat).
With or without Covid, life can seem confusing and fragile. The certainties we crave often just aren’t there. Where can boundary lovers go to get peace? Should I? Shouldn’t I?
In my experience, praying helps, as does chocolate and a really good book. Especially the bible and Winnie the Pooh. Or the Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. Have you read that? You really should. And sometimes, if you listen hard, particularly after praying the Help me, help me! prayer, there is a kind of nudge in your belly advising you to do this or go there. Not the loud, insistent one, the gentle one. It also says things like, It will be OK and Take your time and Don’t be afraid. It is quiet compared to some of the voices you hear on the news and in shops. Sometimes you have to listen carefully (which needs practice, a kind of art).
We do not know if it will be alright, but we do know this. We have God and each other and those tiny little white flowers you see on walks (wood anemones?). They look like stars. I believe we are loved by Someone beyond ourselves, wherever we live and however much hair we have. And this loving can itself be a pathway to peace.