The Things Most Fragile

[written in Nottingham, England, while in graduate school. and later revised to use as my application essay to serve as a full-time volunteer in Sub-Saharan Africa]

Maybe it was the pale golden petals trumpeting out a sweet fanfare to catch my attention. Or maybe it was the striking beauty amidst an otherwise ordinary landscape. For whatever reason, I was absolutely stunned to see a daffodil lying by the side of the canal earlier today. “You’re perfect,” I whispered to it as I gently picked it up from the grass. I tenderly touched its delicate petals, a few of which had some nicks along their edges. I caressed the smooth stem, which had been shortened to a stump when the daffodil lost its home in the soil. Even with these “flaws” or alleged imperfections, my description still held true: the delicate bit of life nestled in the palm of my hand epitomized perfection.

I walked another several miles this afternoon, cradling this lone daffodil all the while. Within the first few steps I took, a thought struck me: the things most fragile in life are also the most resilient. This thought, which seemingly came out of nowhere, almost caused me to stop mid-stride. I kept walking, though, and also kept reflecting.

If we recognize something to be fragile, we want to protect it—not necessarily because it can’t take care of itself, but because we recognize its fragility and do not want to risk it enduring any damage. We want it to flourish, to be the best it can be, and we want this because we know it to be something special, something precious. Our appreciation of, our respect for, our devotion to this special and precious something help to keep it safe from harm.

Carrying this daffodil, my tangible example of something special and precious, I suddenly understood that this is how I feel not only about flowers, but people—marginalized people specifically. People who, because of social stigma surrounding poverty, illness or personal history, are made fragile in mainstream society. People who are beautiful and are perfect in their own imperfect way. People who could truly thrive if only they had a little assistance from someone able to give it. I consider these types of people—arguably, the most fragile—to also be the most resilient. They endure unjust challenges and hardships in addition to an unwarranted stain of disgrace, but they still persevere. Like the daffodil, marginalized people are special and precious, and like the daffodil, I want to help take care of them to make them burgeon.

I now have the daffodil resting on my desk. I kept it, in part, as a reminder to myself (though it is doubtful that I would forget) that the things most fragile in life are also the most resilient. But I also kept it, truthfully, because I cared too much about the daffodil to let it go.

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