Ruminations on the fragility of life

Do you ever feel like you are treading water, battling the current, floundering, stuck? Even if you’re not sure where you’re supposed to be going?

Over the last two weeks, I’ve had two experiences that made me mindful of the fragility of life.

The truth is, we can’t rely on it. We can for the “now”, until the now becomes a second, minute or hour later. Because we don’t know what will happen after the now is gone.

I believe that I have always thought (naively) that our lives are trajectories, moving forward - sure, with some stops and starts - but essentially moving forward toward a desired goal for a set period of time that we were guaranteed. And that goal could be love (whatever that is, as Prince Charles once famously said, while Diana, his achingly young betrothed, stood next to him, looking confused and profoundly uncomfortable) or it could be physical wellness, developing your brain, understanding the meaning of life, achieving contentment, contributing to the betterment of the planet, making a legacy, contributing to others’ happiness…whatever you choose.

You believe that if you have life lessons, you learn from them, you incorporate them into your day to day existence, you chalk them up to being alive and move forward. You get another chance. You don’t imagine you’ll be subjected to the same trauma, once, twice and more. I guess I’ve been lucky, as I know there are those out there who feel trauma surrounds them …. and they struggle to keep their heads above water every.single.day.

The two experiences I mention are those having to do with finding myself face to face with critical injury or death. The first was a poor cat who had broken its pelvis, paralyzing its rear legs, who was dragging itself across four lanes of traffic to try and get home. The second was bearing witness to a dog’s lifeless body in the woods, who had been lost and was now found.

Both incidents left me feeling helpless and sad. But also guilty. Could I have done more? What was my role in this and how did my being there change anything? Did others close their eyes to the injured cat on the road? What was this beautiful dog’s tragic story…

Maybe it’s the malaise of Covid, the built-up frustration and sadness that fills the air, the inability to travel or move freely, the loss of loved ones and separation of families…I feel that all of these things have darkened the universe right now.

Tragedies are more tragic, sadness is more pronounced, doubt and turmoil seem to be everywhere. And uncertainty. Perhaps that’s the worst of it. I had always thought (and presented to my therapist, or maybe she presented it to me — is that wrong that I can’t remember who said what? lol) that if we had known the parameters of this virus, that is, when the end would come, we could have paced ourselves, focused on the light at the end of the tunnel, done our best until we reached the “end.” But today it seems like the “end” is not at all firm; yes, we have a vaccine, but there is still doubt around so much of our protection from the virus over time, and especially our defense from new variants.

If we’re lucky, we can go from day to day without coming face to face with death. And this allows us to float in a certain amount of ignorance or denial…until we get slapped with it, like a cresting wave. Suddenly, we are no longer immune, the tragedies that have befallen others have suddenly shown themselves to us. No, I’m not equating a critically injured cat or a beautiful dog’s sudden and unexpected death with the death of a family member or acquaintance from Covid, but for many (including myself) the effect is the same.

Back to treading water. When one has had one’s life turned upside down by a series of events (for me it’s been the profound sadness of a death in the family, a broken relationship, a move and my own broken dog) one struggles to find the ground. I remember several years ago I was holidaying with my husband on Isla Mujeres, an island off the Caribbean coast of Mexico, near Cancun. The water was beautiful and the island itself was barely known, with only one modern hotel that was now derelict, and dogs wandering the beaches. I was in the sea, tiptoeing just beyond where I felt safe, until suddenly I was pulled out into the current that pushed and pulled down the centre of the inlet. You see, I can’t really swim without my noodle, but in this idyllic spot I had felt safe. But clearly I was not. I struggled frantically to push back to where my feet could touch the ground, wondering if anyone saw me and heard my panic. But my panic was silent and I was on my own. I did manage through sheer physical effort and luck to find ground again and get back to shore. Struggling to find a bottom on which to place my feet is how these last many months has felt like to me.

So where do we go when we can’t go anywhere?

I think the answer lies with being mindful of the ordinary moments in our every days. Be thankful for moments of beauty. Be thankful for moments of peace. Be thankful for a body that moves (hello 62!) and food that nourishes that body and is also, most importantly, delicious. Be thankful for friends - friends who gift you with their time and their compassion. Be thankful for our very best friends, our furry friends, the ones who don’t ask for much other than our company…

Don’t fret over tomorrows. Stay in today. Trust me, being obsessed with the possible travails and calamities of tomorrow will wear you down and confuse the heavens. Because, truly, the heavens might be on your side after all.