We are all just a car crash, a diagnosis, an unexpected phone call, a newfound love or a broken heart away from becoming a completely different person. How beautifully fragile are we that so many things can take but a moment to alter who we are forever?
Have you heard that before? Felt that before? People, things, whatever it may be, can tear us down like brick walls.
The truth of anything is like a mosaic with many tiles, many parts.
The reality is that things bruise, tear, erode, disperse, or end – fundamentally, they’re fragile. Love and other feelings often change. 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. 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 protecting of the things we care about.
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, the 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 building these up.
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