We’re all fragile.
Think of the strongest man you know. I once had a dentist who must’ve also been a bodybuilder. I never asked for confirmation on this, but his arms were so muscular he couldn’t put them all the way down at his sides. When he walked he looked like he was carrying an imaginary barrel at his waist. I’ve always hated the sounds of dental tools rattling around inside my mouth, but when I was in his chair I never really noticed them. I was distracted by the image of his giant, muscular arms operating those tiny tools inside the small dark space of my mouth. He’s probably the strongest man I’ve ever known and he’s fragile. I don’t know his personal stories, but I know that something can break him.
I spent most of my childhood trying to pretend I wasn’t fragile. I wasn’t too small to play football with my brothers. I wasn’t too sensitive for the jokes they made about me. I wasn’t too scared to “skate” on the iced over pond in the woods near our home. I spent years convinced I had to pretend I didn’t know my own fragility, even on the day I was pulled from the iced over pond. I pretended I hadn’t been that scared, I pretended I’d known someone would eventually be able to pull me out.
I was kind of late to experiencing my first loss. I was a teenager when I first faced real loss, the kind when I finally understood what it means for something to be irreversible. I saw my parents’ cry and I knew no one, no grown up or big brother or anyone else, was any less fragile than I.
I don’t care how strong you are, how often you work out, or how few bones you’ve broken. You’re fragile.
If we’re lucky we will live long enough to have to lose a whole lot of people we love. That’s the strange juxtaposition of life and death. We want to live long, healthy lives and in turn we’ll have to watch as others fade. If we’re really lucky, we lose those people in due time, not early and not tragically.
The truth is, we’re all going to be gone at some point and we all know it. Every day we interact with however many countless people and each one of them shares the same humanity – the humanity of knowing pain, of experiencing loss, or being fully aware that one day we won’t be here anymore and all we’ll leave is memories of how we were while we were here.
Every day I fail to see that humanity in at least one person – when I become frustrated that the woman in front of me at the yield sign didn’t just go when she had then chance; when I get mad because someone on Facebook, who disagrees with me, is posting a view that feels extreme by my standards; when I don’t feel like listening to the customer on the phone who is yelling at me for [seemingly] no reason – every day I fail to see that humanity in someone, yet every day I expect others to see it in me.
We’re all at risk of breaking all the time. A car accident, plane crash, stock market dive, heated interaction or breathless phone call could send us reeling at any given moment. Has there ever been a better reason to consider to each other’s fragility?