We train ourselves to hold the newspaper headlines at bay—all those senseless deaths, natural disasters, wars, murders and beyond are always over there, somewhere else, far away. But the news of Robin Williams, the story my daughter tells of a friend’s roommate killed by an auto while innocently unlocking his bicycle, is reason enough to pause, to feel the abyss loom nearer and life’s fragility loom larger. Really, it is a miracle that we wake up as many mornings as we do, some of us day after day for 90 plus years and though no one walks through all those years without the grief of others falling around them, some of us miraculously step in the right place day after day, out of the path of the swerving auto or the deadly cancer cell.
In the midst of a love fest with my granddaughter Zadie, somehow I feel it all yet deeper. Approaching three years old, she is life’s miracle amplified, filled with such vitality, hilarity, intensity, such unbridled love for life unleashing the love of all those around her. If this be life, why should death exist? Why can’t we all be guaranteed an allotted time to work out our destiny? Why does it all seem so random and sometimes downright unfair and sometimes tragically beyond human explanation? Religions do what they can, but fall pitifully short of the big questions that haunt us when confronted with the delicate threads of life’s promise.
I turn to the trees in the woods and feel some comfort from their calm and steady solidity, trees that have weathered so many storms and seen so much of the ebb and flow of life and yet still green their leaves each Spring and give way to death’s cycle each Fall. I plunge into the waters of the small back lake and receive yet more comfort there, some cellular memory of the watery womb from whence we all sprang, snug and secure and protected from life’s terrors. I swim my way into some warm pockets that are so welcome, only to be jarred by a cold spot— back and forth between being soothed and jarred and isn’t that just the way it is?
I find myself longing for my mother’s warm embrace and assurance, but she is gone and now it is I who must offer comfort to my granddaughter’s scraped knees, assure her that “the big bad wolf” won’t get her and anyway, “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, the big bad wolf, the big bad wolf, tra-la-la-la-la.” We sing our way into our brave posturing, but let’s face it, when the inexplicable deaths and destructions creep closer and jackhammer through our carefully constructed bricked walls, when the big bad wolves of depression and drugs and drunk drivers come knocking at our door, our little chinny-chin-chins start to tremble, as well they should. We are all afraid of the big bad wolf and those bricked houses won’t keep him out, no, indeed, they won’t.
Life is so fragile, my friend. We can love deeper and let our loved ones know it— or turn away from it all and brick ourselves into distraction, keep out the terror with brightly lit malls and bright screens or join the screaming evangelists who promise answers in return for non-thinking obedience or stock up with the survivalists and keep our guns loaded. So many choices! But the trees and the back lake advise me to keep breathing, to look further than loss and deeper than gain and glimpse an exquisite order and plan that may just be waiting around the corner.
Or not. Maybe I won’t know until my fragile thread begins to fray or break. Or maybe I will never know. Nothing to do but accept the grace of another morning gifted and move forward into the day with as much love and faith as I can muster. To mark today, and each day, with “Fragile; Handle with care.”