Embrace Fragility

Embrace Fragility

Could it crack?

The Practice:
Embrace fragility.

Why?

The truth of anything is like a mosaic with many tiles, many parts.

One part of the truth of things is that they are robust and enduring, whether it’s El Capitan in Yosemite or the love of a child for her mother and father.

Another part of the truth is that things bruise, tear, erode, disperse, or end – fundamentally, they’re fragile. Speaking of El Capitan, I knew of someone climbing it who had just placed anchors above a long horizontal crack when the sheet of granite he was standing on broke off to fall like a thousand-ton pancake to the valley floor below (he lived, clutching his anchors). Love and other feelings often change in a family. Bodies get ill, age, and die. Milk spills, glasses break, people mistreat you, good feelings fade. One’s sense of calm or worth is easily disturbed. Wars start and then end badly. Planets heat up and hurricanes flood cities. Earthquakes cause tidal waves and damage nuclear reactors.

A life is like a house of cards, and a single gust – a layoff at work, an injury, a misjudgment, a bit of bad luck – can knock it over. Taking a longer view, several billion years from now, our Sun will swell into a red giant star that consumes Mercury, Venus, and Earth: the Grand Canyon, Pacific Ocean, and all the works of humankind will come to an end, utterly fragile.

Sometimes we overestimate the fragility of things, as when we don’t recognize the deep wells of inner strength in ourselves and others. But I think we are more likely to deny or downplay the true extent of fragility: it’s scary to realize how delicate and vulnerable your body is, or the threads that bind you to others – so easily frayed by a single word – or the balance of climate and ecology on our planet. It’s scary and humbling – neither of which people like – to face the underlying frailty of the body, how easy it is for a relationship to go awry, the ways that so many of us are over-extended and running on fumes, the rickety underpinnings of the global financial system, the deep fissures within many nations, or the unpredictability and intensity of Mother Nature.

But if we don’t recognize fragility, we’ll miss chances to protect and nurture so many things that matter, and we’ll be needlessly surprised and upset when things do inevitably fall apart. We need to embrace fragility – to see it clearly and take it into our arms – to be grounded in truth, peaceful amidst life’s changes and endings, and resourceful in our stewardship of the things we care about.

How?

Simply be mindful of fragility – both actual and potential. Notice how many things do break – defined broadly – and notice how many more there are that could break and eventually will: “things” such as physical objects (e.g., cup, blouse, body, species, ecosystem, earth’s crust), relationships, projects, agreements, states of mind, lives, and societies.

Notice any discomfort with recognizing fragility. Be aware of the other tiles in the mosaic – such as stability, resilience, and repair – that can help you push through this discomfort. Appreciate that it is the fragility of things that often makes them most precious.

See the fragility of others, and their pains and losses related to all the things that have “broken” or could break for them. See the delicacy of their feelings, the sensitivities and vulnerabilities in their sense of worth or well-being. Let this knowing about others – both people you’re close to and those you’re not, even people who are difficult for you – open your heart to them. Knowing the fragility of others will naturally lead you away from being harsh or unkind to them.

See the brevity and flimsiness of your own life, and the fragility of your hopes and dreams: why wait another day to do all that you reasonably can to fulfill them?

Consider where you are unnecessarily fragile – perhaps too prickly about criticism, too vulnerable to a slumping mood, too prone to illness, too indebted, too isolated at work (or in life altogether), or too under-resourced in any significant area – and make a realistic plan for shoring these up. For example, I’ve been getting run-down and have realized I really need to make sleep a higher priority.

Do what’s in your heart about what’s fragile in our world – whether it’s an ailing elderly person next door or disaster victims across an ocean.

Ultimately, try to come to peace with the inevitable: all things fall apart, one way or another. Everything cracks. And yet there is something so beautiful about this part of the truth, as Leonard Cohen says much more eloquently than I can:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in

4 Comments
  • jpwomack
    Posted at 21:14h, 14 October

    You are so right. One never knows what is around the next corner. You may wake up in the morning on top of the world and end your day in the ER after a car accident or any other incident. I have a couple of the to in to items. I am going to get my stuff in order. Love this article.

  • Toni
    Posted at 07:15h, 15 October

    Great article! Yes. The only things that are a certainty inline are that everything changes, and none of us gets out of this alive. I’m becoming more aware that each of us is on a personal journey and there will be bumps, bruises and sometimes horrendous losses along the way. I try not to take these things personally. Someone’s house doesn’t burn down or their child dies because God hates them or selects them for suffering. Everything in life is in process, like a million tiny balls in the air, rotating along their own axis. Sometimes the balls collide and wonderful or terrible things happen. There is randomness and chaos in the universe. I may as well accept that fact and concentrate on strengthening myself for the journey. There are no guarantees. I’d best accept and embrace change instead of fighting it. In nature, the most beautiful things are often the most delicate and fragile. How cool is that?

  • Mary Elizabeth
    Posted at 20:03h, 23 October

    So well said- thank you. I feel ‘seen’ in some ways just reading it- especially acknowledging how even a ill placed word can have difficult consequences.

    Love idea of understanding and recognizing ‘fragility’ in life, and then learning to appreciate it in others- and how people’s delicacies of feeling can touch sense of worthy and well being. We try to remember to be kind in the most mundane situation. Well- I’m reiterating!

    The image I take away is that of a holding a bird’s nest between my cupped hands and looking down to see beautiful yet fragile eggs-soft blue in fact…. filled with life and possibility.

  • Beverly
    Posted at 20:32h, 31 October

    I love the reminders in this article. The recognition of fragility helps me feel grateful for a warm house and dry clothing instead of complaining when it rains for a whole week straight . It helps me to be thankful for the wonder of how my body is working for me instead of bemoaning that I haven’t lost those last ten pounds. It helps me to be happy that I can hear my grandchild’s voice over the phone instead of staying in the sadness that she lives far away. Life is so precious- and so fragile- and so wonderful…

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