The Fragility of Life


Elizabeth Amaka Iwunwa

“And, in a way, we’re all time travelers. Somehow, the entire temporal stream exists, but we’re only conscious of a single moment.”

― Jack McDevitt, Time Travelers Never Die

Life is a sunset. It slowly lingers, blessing the sky with its colour and warmth. Then, all of a sudden, the light fades and night falls. The fragility of life is in the people and places we encounter. We never know that the last time is the last time. The last kiss. The last hug. The last smile.

Perhaps we would act differently if we did. Perhaps we would be kinder, stronger, more grateful. This is why, in many ways, time is the truest test of character. To act and speak and live as we want to be remembered is a recognition and celebration of life’s fragility.

To the young, life will never cease. Tomorrow will always come.

Not so.

The young do not understand death, but neither do the old, and nor do those who sprint somewhere in the middle, aching to become one or the other. How can we? We are bookended by our own temporality. We cannot understand death from inside the enclosure of our lives. We cannot understand it inside the frailness of our existence. In short, we cannot understand death because of death. But, in our grieving and in our living, would it even matter if we could?

Maybe how we live today is the prophecy of how we will live tomorrow. Maybe seeing tomorrow is Providence granting us a chance to right our wrongs and try again.

Analyzing the fragility of life is incomplete without analyzing the fragility of living. The fragility of staying alive, awake, and spirited. How easy it is to become numb, dull, dead while yet living. Our world can move at so dizzying a pace that the most expedient response, perhaps, is to become numb. And yet we know what is expedient is not always meaningful. To sleep when the sky grows dark, beaten and broken, while the world weighs heavy on our shoulders and to answer when morning calls, willing to contend once again with our failures, our insecurities, our disappointments, and our hurts is not normal. It is miraculous. A life without an element worthy of contention is empty.

In “Brothers”, we see life through the eyes of a being that quite often blends into the background of our homes and lives. Despite this being’s inability to communicate as we do or understand its own mortality, these reflections demonstrate that our actions are not specks of dust littering the earth’s surface. They are the very pillars of another’s world. What we do, therefore, matters, regardless of whether we recognize or understand that fact.

“Take the Iron Off the Table” communicates the timeless wisdom of a grandmother’s life with little speech. Silent lessons. These are often the most potent and unforgettable. This piece shows us how legacies can and should be perpetuated. It shows us how looking at the big picture, a giant mosaic of intentions, assumptions, and regrets, can cause us to live at peace with ourselves and with others. This piece attempts to comprehend death through a web of life and of life-giving. We cannot understand why loved ones must leave, but we can clothe ourselves in their words and stitch out their legacies.

“Grief Subsides” brings the moments that pass without us savouring them to the fore. This piece of writing teaches and encourages. To the grief-laden, it gently nudges, reminding them to keep going, to take a breath, and to recognize that no day, even the most heart-wrenching and disorientating, will last forever. One day, the stabbing pain will evolve into a dull, pulsating ache. Grief will only ever subside, not disappear. The piece also examines our physical reaction to grief. In the moment, our response seems incomprehensible. When encountering death, we sometimes fail to understand even ourselves.

“Belly Up” is filled with prompts to always look up at possibilities, inspiration, and boundlessness. Crashing waves, colossal as they may be, will wash over us if we but keep our eyes fixed to the sky. Maybe we would drown, and maybe the waves would overwhelm our spirits and carry our corpses to shore if we look around, not above. “Belly Up” is a quiet command to stand straight, look up, and see hope. It’s the rushing tide of the universe as it pushes us, unawares, into our futures.

“In Spite” ties it all together. It is a call to find quiet moments to contemplate the wonder of life. It calls us to live fully and without limits and in spite of fear. That the sun shines and crickets chirp and snow falls should fill our hearts with reverent awe. We must remember that death is coming, but that knowledge should spur us instead to understand and appreciate the present. “In Spite” directs us not to wait until we take our place under the earth to accomplish that which we were placed upon it to do; live.


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Quod Erat Demonstrandum Copyright © 2019 by Elizabeth Amaka Iwunwa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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