A Feeling of Fragility

Jesus warns us that heaven and earth will pass away (Matt 24:35) but there is a way in which life here makes that feel distant. Paul adds his voice, warning us that “the present form (σχῆμα, ‘appearance’) of this world is passing away”. Jesus and Paul both urge us to invest in eternal, unseen heavenly things (2 Cor 4:18), that which moth and rust cannot touch (Matt 6:19-21).

So much of my life in comfortable, middle-class America is trying to help me insulate myself from what Jesus and Paul are trying to say to me. While life is full of instability and transitions, there are so many systems in place to help me create the illusion (the appearance, the σχῆμα as Paul says) of security.

But then things break in.

Yesterday, I was busy being preoccupied with life.

It was flying before my eyes: I blinked, and I was in Egypt. I blinked, and May was gone, and I was in Malta. Or Slovakia? Or Austria? I blinked, and somehow June had passed and I was in Turkey. I blinked and July was gone and I was sitting on an airplane to DC but then I was in NJ but then – and the person I was going to stay with messaged me that she was sick, and she and I began to look for other accommodations and I was stressed about not knowing where I was staying but then I blinked and I was generously being hosted by someone else in another town whose name I don’t know but I will be gone soon so maybe it’s not even worth finding out?

Meanwhile, back in Hawaiʻi, much of the state was under warning for wildfires.

And then I blink

And Lahaina is completely destroyed. There’s a death toll of 36 (now 53). More than 2,100 people are displaced. People, including children, are fleeing into the ocean to escape flames. The Red Cross is trying to help people find missing loved ones. Historic buildings and local landmarks are suddenly…gone.

I do not have any special attachment to Lahaina itself – I have been there twice that I can remember, and I had a nice time and ate great gelato. I remember it as a small, cute town. Last time I was there, it was during Hurricane Flossie in 2007, when I was still in elementary school and there were big winds and fear of flooding – though it all turned out okay.

But the fact that Lahaina is just…gone?

That so many people had homes and workplaces and suddenly they don’t?

That the wildfire is still raging, fueled by massive winds?

There are natural disasters all over the world, happening as I write this. Flooding in Slovenia, China, and Norway as well as a tropical storm in Korea. These natural disasters seem to be worsening with climate change, and five of the 30 deadliest weather incidences recorded in Africa have occurred since 2022. But an earthquake in Turkey or flooding in Rwanda feels far away.

Lahaina, where I ate gelato as a child? Lahaina, which used to be a wetland?

There are moments when a feeling of fragility cracks that middle-class American illusion of security – where it becomes so very obvious that the present form of the world is indeed crumbling.

 When it feels like if I blink, it might all be gone.

And the thing is, it will all be gone.

This too shall pass.

Any voyage, no matter how good or bad, will end.

Any fire, no matter how destructive, will be put out.

Any building, no matter how old and venerable, will crumble.

Any government, no matter how ruthless and efficient, will fall.

The islands will return to the sea and we will return to the ground.

This too shall pass.

I blinked and found that three months of the summer are gone and I need to fill out paperwork for the new year.

I blinked and suddenly the physical parts of a community are wiped off the map.

I’m blinking, and I’m starting to feel, for a moment, that the house I am in is not as stable as it looks. That the clothes I am wearing, the blankets I am sleeping under, the bed I am sitting on are not as sturdy as they feel. I’m a guest, dropping in (and unexpectedly), wearing my friends socks because I’m out of my own and sleeping in her bed. As a guest, I know that I’m transient. I don’t know where the dishes go in the cabinet, where the toilet paper is, or even the name of the street I’m on. I know I am temporary; I will be gone soon. But for a moment I can feel clearly that these things that feel so much more permanent are temporary, too.

The ballistic missile crisis, when we all thought we were going to die back in 2018, was not quite the same thing. It’s one thing to think that you’re going to die. It’s another thing to imagine your town is going to die, the places that were there before you were born and would, presumably, have continued long after you die.

But heaven and earth will pass away, and in fact are already passing.

The fires will end, leaving years of devastation in their wake, having claimed lives and homes and dreams. But they will pass, just like the whole world is already passing away.

And in a moment, in a blink, I who am far away and still have a home to go back to, will be insulated again from having to look at that ugly and uncomfortable fragility.


Please consider donating to recovery efforts with a group like the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation: https://www.hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/






2 responses to “A Feeling of Fragility”

  1. Darlene Perry Avatar
    Darlene Perry

    Beautiful and true words spoken by a well meaning truly amazing woman, yes all things shall pass but we need to help others in need ! You are an amazing person. God Bless you!

  2. Wing Li Avatar
    Wing Li

    Thank you for this beautiful and thoughtful reflection.

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