There’s an older man who lives not far from me. His neglected home is barely visible behind drooping trees and overbearing bushes. And his car, surprisingly new-looking, shiny and clean on the outside, is stuffed to the ceiling with newspapers, boxes, bags full of what-I-do-not-know, empty food containers, sweaters and coats, shoes, books, piles of papers, empty plastic bags . . . the driver’s seat is the only place where stuff and junk are not piled high. Sometimes, I see the man in the driver’s seat, just sitting, just staring, his car parked a little catawampus so the left tail light could be easily nicked by a UPS truck or a Metro bus.
It makes me uncomfortable, this man’s car. I didn’t understand exactly why until the other day, when I was thinking about life’s fragility. I passed his car, and I wondered if maybe he thinks about the fragility of life, too. Maybe he copes with it by cramming his car full of things he doesn’t really need. Maybe his car (and probably an equally full home) help soothe and calm him.
I would understand that. Life and relationships and people are all so easily shattered or squashed. Two women in my community lost their husbands recently, one to brain cancer, the other to a massive stroke. One was 39, the other was 41. In my Bible study circle, women have lost husbands, some without any warning at all. Two friends, both who have been battling cancer for years, both acknowledge that some day, cancer will end their life.
Beyond death and illness, so much of what I see appears fragile: Sweetie’s social connections seem rock solid one day and built on sinking sand the next. Relationships and marriages that seemed unbreakable, end without much warning. And homeless people in our city, I see them holding their Please Help signs, and I imagine they once held a solid job, that they have a college education, that they were just slapped with too much bad luck. They remind me that no matter how many safety nets we construct, we all live a life far more fragile than we want to admit or accept.
But! Two things keep me from crumbling. Were it not for my trust in the goodness of God, I might forbid my children to ever leave the safety of our home. I might not follow dreams of being an author. I might not get married or invest too much in friendships that could, in the end, unravel.
The other thing that keeps me from crumbling under life’s quakes? The simple act of noticing. Noticing that what looks fragile is actually far stronger than it appears.
I see this when I accidentally walk through spider webs, some of the most brilliant, perfect works of art. I have inadvertently destroyed this little guy’s hard work, but does he freak out? Does he throw a hand to his forehead, then roll over and die? No. He simply sighs, then says something like, “Oh, rats.” And then he gets busy spinning a new web.
That’s a tenacious little creation.
We are tenacious creations, too. One friend has been living with cancer—five or six rounds of it now—for nearly ten years. She keeps smiling. The homeless people I see in our neighborhoods, they return to their corners or intersections each day, holding tight to their Please Help signs and even tighter to their hope. My young friends who have lost their young husbands carry on, raising their children and muddling through with heartbreaking grace.
Have you read Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow? Anne is my kind of woman (a lovely, generous neurotic mess who isn’t afraid to act otherwise). I love this point she makes in her book:
Sometimes circumstances conspire to remind us or even let us glimpse how thin the membrane is between here and here, between birds and the grave, between the human and the divine.
That’s right. We all will suffer, and we all will die. But! We also persevere, leaning our full weight into the most solid, unchangeable, permanent, true, source of strength in our life.
The other night a fat, orange full moon sat in our sky. How tenacious is the moon . . . the sun too. How hopeful! Soon Husbandio will plant the tulip bulbs, that, come springtime, will push green sprigs from cold earth. How tenacious are the tulip bulbs.
Likewise, we humans are designed to forge friendships and fall in love and build various kinds of families, all-the-while knowing our webs might be walked-through by some clod.
When that does happen, we will grieve (as we are designed to). We will sigh, saying, “Oh, rats,” mostly because we had imagined our webs a certain way, suspended in a certain place ideal for catching flies and other yummies. But after the sighing and Oh, rats-ing, we will remember to turn hopeful faces in the direction of Light, getting back to the work of spinning fragile strands of silk into something that’s pretty darn miraculous.
Photo compliments of flickr’s arbyreed.