Imagine the fragile predicament of spring flowers. In the spirit of the early bird catching the worm, April plants send up sprouts to soak in as much spring sun as they can before being shaded by early-leafing trees, spreading shrubs, and even their flowering fellows. But an early bird on New England turf can face a deadly surprise when April nights plunge below freezing or even bring sudden snow.
This past week, the ex-girlfriend of one of J’s longtime friends passed away after a sudden illness, exacerbated by chronic medical problems, left her unconscious and brain-dead. I’d met D when J and I traveled to Atlanta last summer; she was J’s age, which is two years older than I am. Life is a fragile condition, and D had struggled with an ongoing array of medical problems: brain cancer, asthma, partial deafness. We’d known that D’s health was precarious, but when I met her, she seemed healthy enough: she didn’t look like the kind of person-turned-patient who could, in the span of a week, suffer respiratory failure, several heart attacks, and death. Intellectually, I know that life is fragile and sickness and death can strike at any time: still, I’d never imagined last summer that an otherwise lively person my own age would be dead by springtime. Although death is the inevitable and thus entirely “natural” result of any given life, human nature tends toward procrastination and denial. Yes, death happens eventually…but not now, not soon, and not to people like me.
Last week, before we’d heard about D’s decline and ultimate death, J remarked in passing that in ten years, all the pets we presently own will be dead. What he didn’t need to say, of course, was that in the course of ten years, either or both of us will probably experience other losses: relatives, friends, acquaintances. J and I have already attended our first wedding together, but we’ve yet to go together to our first shared funeral…but this too shall come to pass. In response to my recent post about Reggie and the not-quite Rainbow Bridge, a friend remarked that I’m “awfully young to be so mortality-aware.” In a world of cause and effect, isn’t it strange that an awareness of mortality should come as a surprise at any age? Given the natural and inevitable way of all flesh, shouldn’t it be more surprising that we insist on ignoring crystal-clear reminders that impermanence rules?
D suffered from asthma, as I do, and although I manage mine through medication, I know any disease affecting the lungs has the potential to be deadly. Having had one attack years ago, before I’d been officially diagnosed, when I nearly gave up the ghost out of sheer exhaustion, I know how easy it is to die. And yet, when you’ve contemplated your own mortality in an actual rather than an abstract sense, your remaining days have a certain gift-like quality. Having almost died once, you realize any extra hours you can squeeze from Time are an undeserved bonus, each day being a precious thing you’d previously taken for granted. Life is a fragile condition, and each day we spend above-ground is as precious, tenuous, and beautiful as an April flower.
This is my belated contribution to this week’s Photo Friday theme, Fragile. This is actually the second time I’ve titled a blog-post “Fragile”; the first considers flood damage to an old stone bridge that has since been repaired.