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On Resilience and Fragility

I was sitting eating breakfast with my boys last lazy Sunday morning, contemplating the chicken I was poking my fork into; how easily the meat rips away from the bone, and I mused — I’m made of meat not much different than this chicken, though decidedly less cooked. These bodies we have are so incredibly fragile that it takes no more than a sharp edge on a piece of metal, rock or bone, and we are undone. One poke or prod by the wrong thing in the wrong place, and the damage is fatal and irrevocable. For a creature that lives in the world of hard things, our substance is decidely flimsy. Most days this simple and immediate fact is transparent to my everyday workings, but there are some days when it becomes so glaringly evident that it can become crippling, especially in the light of being a parent and custodian of two soft fleshy boys. Of course, while nursing an ailing kitty for the last few months has been a definite reminder of mortality, what’s had my heart wrenching recently is the news that one of Eli’s preschool teacher is fighting/dying from advanced stage bone cancer. He’s got a family with several children of his own, and it breaks my heart to think of him wasting away from what is supposedly a very painful form of cancer, with the high potentiality of leaving wife and kids behind. I think about my own health, and wonder if I’m doing everything I can to try and prevent such a catastrophic event, and yet — can you ever truly guard against something like cancer? It’s a force of nature, part of the fragility of our design. Not only can we pierced and damaged from without, our own body can turn against us from within.
And yet, in the face of our own fragility, we’re also incredibly resilient. As long as we stay within the bounds of irreparable harm, we can recover. Wounds heal themselves in our bodies like magic — even stone and metal can’t heal themselves in the way that our body can. Our bodies are constantly building and rebuilding themselves, fighting off an onslaught of environmental attacks. Once the spark of life leaves us, it is very quickly that our bodies are invaded and consumed by pathogens in our environment. These spongy bags of water aren’t a fragile as they might first appear, in fact, they’re quite durable… for a time. Eventually, however, the thresholds of damage are overcome, and age reduces the body’s resilience, until finally, we break, we die, we disappear. There’s no avoiding it — it’s a fact of life, of existence. We are living in our own death every single day. What supreme irony that we live complex, beautiful and detailed lives avoiding danger and building an entire set of life experiences, only to disappear at the end of it all, becoming so much soil.
All we’ve got is right now. Right here at the breakfast table. We can trust in our resilience to give us the courage to walk out the door. For most of us, a fall and a scrape on our knee is inconsequential. We get up, we brush off, we keep going. I get to witness this every single day as a parent. Childhood is nothing if not a practice in wound recovery. And yet, we just pray that the injuries stay minor, though there’s no guarantee at all. Life is risk. We just live each moment to each moment, and if we’re lucky, we can savor it. More often than not we find ourselves missing it, for plans of the next moment, or regrets of the one just past. Though, so often we can chant this mantra to ourselves and we miss or ignore the counterpoint to the ‘live life now’ mentality — it takes careful planning and retrospection and learning to keep us alive for the next set of moments. Some of our now must be donated to the future, or we will end up on the streets, wondering where the house and job went. Some of the now must be donated to the past, to remember those who lived such rich lives before us, whose time here on the planet intersected ours, but who have now passed. They live now only in our memories and our stories, may they be a blessing. Today, I am living my life, I am remembering my forebearers, I am building memories in my children that hopefully they will take with them beyond my grave. That’s about all I can ask or hope for. The rest is mythology. I pray that on my journey, the intensity of injury and ailment stays shallow, and yet we cannot avoid fatality. It happens to us all, but for most of us, blessedly only once.
I’m still holding out for science to figure out a way to upgrade this model, and make us more resilient. I’d like at least to be able to combat the injustices of age and disease. Decline is a bad idea — I’m going to take it up with the intelligent designer.

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