frag-ile [frag-uhl]

1.  easily broken, shattered, or damaged; delicate; brittle; frail
2.  vulnerably delicate, as in appearance: she has a fragile beauty
3.  lacking in substance or force; flimsy

from the Latin frangere “to break”


I have been feeling fragile lately. On Easter Sunday I came down with what I thought was a little cold, and ended up being a stubborn case of bronchitis. I was in bed for several days, and on the couch for several more. Now after two rounds of antibiotics and steroids, I have turned the corner and have begun to look back, with discomfort and a little bit of fear, at how sick I became, and how quickly. And it makes me feel fragile.

Prior to contracting bronchitis, I had had one of my best stretches of good health (or as good as my health gets) in quite a long time. My joint pain was better-managed, I had gained several much-needed pounds, and my energy level was better than it had been in years. Now I am back to tiring easily; I lost most of my hard-earned weight; and I have been unable to take my arthritis medication because it suppresses my immune system and must not be used when infection is present. I feel sad and discouraged and a little bit scared about how quickly my gains became losses again.

Life changes quickly. Sometimes in the blink of an eye. You can be healthy, and then suddenly not healthy. You can be employed, and then suddenly not employed. You can be alive, and then suddenly not alive. And yet, much of the time we are all just fine and get along quite well without help, free of hardship, not facing tragedy. I was very sick, but now I am quite a bit better thanks to modern medicine and help from family and friends. What does this mean for us as human beings? How are we to embrace our simultaneous fragility and resilience?

I am not sure I know the answer, but I think I have learned (again, and again, and again) to see fragility as a gift. During my bout with bronchitis I needed a lot of help. Friends brought meals, did laundry, and helped get the kids to and from school; Dave came home early, fixed dinner, did baths and bedtime; other friends ran errands, brought groceries, took the kids to the playground; the children unloaded the dishwasher, put away laundry, brought me blankets and cups of juice. Without all the help, delivered with care and concern, I might have broken - might have been sicker for longer, might have felt alone and helpless, might have experienced the down-side of fragility. Instead, I experienced its up-side: I felt the love and care of my friends and family; I rested and let my body heal; I gave thanks for my life, my doctor, modern medicine, central heating, thick blankets, good books, and hot tea.


There is a flat of pansies on the garden table outside my kitchen window. They are beautiful, but fragile: “vulnerably delicate, as in appearance,” “easily broken, shattered, or damaged.” Slender, bobbing stems struggle to hold up brave, gorgeous, paper-thin faces. They will need care: rich soil, water, enough light, a little food now and then. If it gets too cold, they will need to be covered. They could be crushed by a basketball, or a frisbee, a foot, or a hailstorm. But they probably will endure until first frost ~ and beautifully.

I would like to be fragile the way these pansies are fragile: fragile in this beautiful, interdependent way. The way that we are all fragile, really.

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