Sarah R. Callender


In Faith on September 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm

fragileThere’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.

  1. Lovely

  2. I loved reading this. My tears that welled up…they enjoyed it too. I can’t wait for your book.

  3. Beautiful writing, Sarah. I’m in awe.

    I have a few quotes which help me, but I’ll share them another time. Don’t want to spoil this moment of reverence.

    • Oh, you’re the best, Jan. Thank you! But please share your quotes! Please! See all these exclamation points! 🙂

      • Okay. These are from Byron Katie and both give me a shock of laughter.

        “When you argue with reality you lose, but only 100% of the time.”

        “If you want to live in terror, get a future.”

        It’s that second which seems germane to your post. How much do we miss of the present, with all its gifts, because we’re arming ourselves for future, probably non-existent battles?

      • I love these, Jan. Thank you! And you’re right . . . so many gifts in the present–usually simple ones (the smell of coffee, the sound of rain, neighborhood kids playing outside). A friend just commented on FB that she saw a woman, earbuds in her ear, watching something on an iPad, pushing her baby in a stroller. What is she noticing? Noticing is, I think, the opposite of escaping. 🙂

  4. I’ll share my quote. Well, it’s actually a cliché. But it’s short and sweet. It’s: Life’s too short.

    For many years, my wife and I were so busy spinning our safety net, life was passing us by. We decided to surrender to the fragility and the risk, and to start living in the moment, rather than to try to weave a false web of security. Have you noticed? Even the most elaborate webs are so easily and often broken. You have to be ready to start again each day, in any case. Best to enjoy each day along the way. (Yes, I realize I mixed up your metaphors. Sorry.)

    I agree with the others, lovely sentiment and beautifully written essay, Sarah. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Vaughn! I love your and your wife’s story . . . takes real guts to trapeze your way through life without a net, no? It’s hard for me to go fully netless, but I guess, when I’m TOO worried about the net, I forget to feel the feeling of flight.

      I’m grateful to have your support.

  5. Absolutely Beautiful. Thank you. Love you Mom (Sitting with Jams& loving it!)

    Sent from my iPhone

  6. “Hope is the feeling you have, that the feeling you have, won’t last.”
    from ‘Aint’t Misbehavin’
    “Its love that brings you here to me, It’s love that gives us life….” from ‘The Wedding Song’
    …..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. from -Sarah C.

  7. Sarah, I am always delighted to see Inside-out Underpants show up in my mail box! I save it and wait for a quiet moment and a cup of fresh brewed coffee. I savor it and re-read it like my parents used to do when a favorite mag arrived…only I don’t leave it by the toilet.

    I am left with the image of the man you described–the man in every town and the spider web under my apple tree, yes the tree that blooms beautifully in the spring and brings clouds of fruit flies in the fall (!) and I’m left with the phrase, “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It is the “other” version of the Lord’s Prayer, different from debts owed; the one that brings to mind the many times we’ve been reckless and unsympathetic to others and their boundaries.

    I pray for their resilience and am encouraged in my own.

  8. Thank you for writing this beautiful article.

    It makes me want to go about crunching autumn leaves with my 5 year old while singing silly songs and really savoring the good moments in life.

  9. Hi Sarah! I know this is an old post, but I happened to read it just now and felt compelled to comment on how much I loved every word. What a gift this post was/is to me, to whoever reads it. Thank you. ~Katy

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