In the past weeks, I heard one particular clichéd sentence so often that I was prompted to reflect on it. Prior to this reflection, I don’t recall ever using it and be assured that the reason is not mindfulness. It is a sentence I paid hardly any attention to. Life is fragile. Time and death are the ultimate sentries of our lifetime. Yet when we die life goes on. So what is life? Is it really fragile?
One modest definition of life is breathing. When we stop breathing that is the end of life. Then we are buried, cremated or decay somewhere if the body is not found. Our perished bodies continue to nourish other forms of life such as underground insects, bacteria, etc. Our life legacy continues to live through others or in others. I honor the thought of my perished body decomposing and nourishing bugs or adding nutrients to the soil, which in turn might benefit plant growth. I am also consoled to know that my writing will be there for someone else in the future to read or get inspired to continue the craft of writing. This continuity of life in other form is not terrifying. Consequently, it forbids me from saying that life is fragile.
“A self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution.”― NASA
“There is currently no consensus regarding the definition of life.”― Wikipedia
According to the BBC Earth, there are over 100 definitions for ‘life’ and they are all wrong. This observation stems from a study by Edward N. Trifonov where analysis of the vocabulary of 123 tabulated definitions of life reveals nine groups of defining terms (definientia) of which the groups (self-) reproduction and evolution (variation) appear as the minimal set for a concise and inclusive definition: Life is self-reproduction with variations.
“Man tends to define in terms of the familiar. But the fundamental truths may not be familiar.”– Carl Sagan
If life is that complex to define, isn’t that reason enough to avoid asserting it as delicate? Something that intricate cannot be fragile. Maybe one meaning of life is to accept that it is not easily broken. Each one of us will leave behind a legacy, whether good or bad. Thanks to technology, part of us will persist in humans, robots, artifacts, and art.
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”― Robert Frost
Defining life with clichés is undeserving. Let’s instead affirm life’s continuity and variation, not brokenness. Indeed, it moves fast and sometimes ends untimely to our expectations. Nonetheless, it gives us the opportunity to ponder and act on why we are here. Above all else, it takes ours to support another, whether living or non-living. Life is agile.