Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Impermanence is Not Fragility

--by Rachel Naomi Remen (Jun 15, 2009)

Perhaps survival was not only a question of the skillful use of state-of-the-art technology, perhaps there was something innate, some strength in those tiny pink infants, that enabled both them and me to survive.  I had never thought of that before.

It reminded me of something that had happened one spring day when I was fourteen.  Walking up Fifth Avenue in New York City, I was astonished to notice two tiny blades of grass growing through the sidewalk.  Green and tender, they had somehow broken through the cement.  Despite the crowds bumping aginst them, I stopped and looked at them in disbelief.  This image stayed with me for a long time, possibly because it seemed so miraculous to me.  At the time, my idea of power was very different.  I understood the power of knowledge, of wealth, of government, and the law.  I had no experience with this other sort of power yet.

Accidents and natural disasters often cause people to feel that life is fragile.  In my experience, life can change abruptly and end without warning, but life is not fragile.  There is a difference between impermanence and fragility.  Even on the phsyiological level, the body is an intricate design of checks and balances, elegant strategies of survival layered on strategies of surivival, balances and rebalances.  Anyone who has witnessed the recovery from such massive and invasive interventions as bone marrows transplant or open heart surgery comes away with a deep sense of respect, if not awe, for the ability of the body to survive.  This is as true in age as it is in youth.  There is a tenacity toward life which is present at the intracellular level without which even the most sophisticated of medical interventions would not succeed.  The drive to live is strong even in the most tiny of human beings.  I remember as a medical student seeing one of my teachers put a finger in the mouth of a newborn and, once the baby took hold, gently lift him partway off the bed by the strength of his suck.

That tenacity toward life endures in all of us, undiminished, until the moment of our death.

--Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

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3 Previous Reflections:

On Aug 30, 2011 Scott Sheperd wrote:

 She is perhaps one of the greatest, wisest, kindest people I have ever met. 

On Jun 16, 2009 SK wrote:

Great illustration of the tenacity of life through a simple observation. In Jurassic Park, the dinos are genetically programmed to be deficient in lysine, an essential amino acid, so that they cannot reproduce. But towards the end of the movie, eggs are found under a tree: "life has found a way". None of these examples, however, show that life is not fragile. Individual life is fragile as well as impermanent. It is only if we consider life as a whole in terms of a species, or all living organisms, that it acquires a 'non-fragile' character.

On Jun 16, 2009 Kush wrote:

The story is just amazing as it shifts our views towards the tiniest part of our life,Which we dont ever see or take into consideration in our day today life. We just ignore or neglect those views. But the thing is if we take those tiny things into cosideration and magnify their values,they teach us the best part and practical lessons in our life. The story is much inspirational.