Is life delicate? Or is life resilient? I am no master of this paradox, life. Our life is but a breath, a chaff, a breeze. Grass growing thick and velvety one day, only to crumble and disintegrate at season’s end. Yet life persists on, carries on, heals, grows, adapts, survives. Who can account for the paradox of life?
As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field: the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
Psalm 103: 15-17
Looking out over tropical waters, my mind clears. I’ve come alone, seeking out this private spot in a Jeep that’s not mine, hair braided tightly and outfitted for the ocean. Singly, I am anyone from anywhere. I take in the landscape palette of buff sand, bleached trees, charcoal rocks, and transparent layers of ocean progressing to aqua, azure, turquoise, teal, cerulean, indigo. I loop my gear onto the nearby banyan tree, home to a hand-sized black crab that skitters away at my approach, like a giant spider. In any other setting her dark retreat would be terrifying. I scoot over bare ocean rock and ease myself into the water.
I am alone in the ocean without flotation aid. I make it beyond the surface rim to lie belly-down toward the coral below. My back, a new surface to the liquid glass. Two feet below me lies the coral bed. The coral looks benign and fuzzy-looking; a teddy-bear-brown pillow. I remain aware of my posture, keeping my legs back flat, elbows jutting outward from my head at the surface and palms near my eyes facing open down; a calm surrendering sign of submission recognizing the coral’s vulnerability. There in the crags between coral to coral are the spikey inert spines of sea urchins. They splay unwittingly toward me. The ocean is calm yet lifts me up one foot, down one foot.
Suddenly I am aware that at any moment an ocean’s wave may withdraw, might drop me upon the unintending spines below. Not to mention the life-holding coral that is at the mercy of my restraint. These risky shallows extend far seaward and so I must decide; retreat to the safety of shore, or swim alone upon my own strength beyond my comfort into distant, deeper waters. Life calls to embrace adventure – some sort of beckoning to the occasional exposure to danger. I push out. Out there, the blank water surfaces above keep their secret which is the teeming life submerged. Such vulnerable coral. Such astounding variety and abundance of life around each protruding reef.
I am at the mercy of the ocean body. Do I have the power to move the tides and waves? Yet alone, to think I occupy the ocean, would dare to immerse myself in it – it is an audacity of boldness, or a fool’s impulse. The water level changes to the margin of one or two feet only – to the ocean, that is no margin at all. To the ocean I am less than dust. A seed, a germ, an atom; such are my colleagues, in the perspective of the sea. The earth of my flesh is hardly distinct from the coastline sand. I am acutely aware of the tempered power that holds me upon its lip.
So it is with Creator. Immersed in Creator I push out, I twist, I recline into the waves. Unlike in the ocean, I am unwatchful, unguarded. I submit my palms to the sky. Lift my chin and trust my head to a backward tilt; thus I heedlessly ride the waves as they take me where He will.
What better than a child to remind about the frailty of life. Child lives like a fearless acrobat dancing out upon a thread, a high wire. Life is quite like a filament of spun web. Is it delicate or strong? It stretches, it sways, sticky-stuck to the foot with every maneuver. Child unknowingly takes it for granted as if granite under foot, but wiser ones will tell; child your life is so delicate. A toe-hold on a slack rope thread.
Children are unaccountably strong; they bounce back from countless hurts and overcome their elders in the race to recover from illness. They learn at a rate to rival any superhero. Their skin begins flawless with the unique potential to grow, grow, grow. Their futures are the impression of security from the idea that no current path is permanent. Yet children are clearly vulnerable. Subject to poisons, physically weak, impressionable. At the mercy of hazards that might cross their path or anyone who might fool them or control their security.
Becoming an infant demands perfection from an astounding, countless number of genetic and cell maneuvers; these developments of becoming that we share. We are unlikely miracles, all. Yet we fill the earth. Is life delicate? Or resilient?
We have come to expect a certain life span; to grow, to work, to know family; but we are at the mercies of one another. Is life delicate? Or resilient?
Once upon a time life burst out of its own seams into a Cambrian multiplication of diversity and abundance. Yet to alter productive genetic information usually spells disaster. Is life delicate? Or resilient?
Ecosystems adjust to the ebb and flow of any member of the food web. Yet some species disappear forever. Is life delicate? Or resilient?
Earth is placed in an atmospheric void surrounded by forces of heat, cold, suffocation, and gravity that would momentarily undo us. Yet our home remains stable enough for history upon history. Is life delicate? Or resilient?
Our singular bodies and experiences are insignificant, yet we contain an inexplicable potential for boundless passions of joy or sorrow; passions that seemingly reverberate well beyond our physical selves. Is life delicate? Or resilient?
For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate, and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything under the sun.
A team of children crawls into a cave, only to be swallowed into its bowels by floodwater and darkness. And yet they survive within the void. And yet the world’s people exert the will to redeem their lives. And yet human knowledge and resources recover them. And yet the hero, in all his strength and advantage, slips off the stretchy web. Tell me. Is life delicate? Or resilient?
Like the child who dances on the web, I long to throw myself upon that Thread. This, not to say that I wish for recklessness. Life is reckless enough without my aid. Rather, I cast myself onto the unseen web, the web immaculate in placement and receiving yield, accommodating to a well-placed trust.
I survive the ocean danger. I return to the shore which feels safer. Yet stronger lives have fallen by less. A scrape, a cough, a fall.
The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned: but time and chance happen to them all.
So too, the paradox of life equalizes humanity. All of us dance upon the stretchy web, the Creator alone wields it and bends it to the step-falls of our days.
Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say “I find no pleasure in them.”
Life is delicate. Something holds us together. Creator demonstrates His grasp upon power, yet holds it at bay. This paradox, for the cause and proof of life.