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Life is a Thin and Precious Thread

Last Sunday, I hauled my rocking chair from the living room to the front stoop of my house and sat in the warm air, watching a few neighbors stroll by, putting a few green stitches in my current embroidery project.  It was utterly pleasant, in a surreal way.  In cities across the nation the terrible COVID 19 virus is spreading, killing people by the thousands. In those places, sirens have replaced birdsong.  The daily news is grim, predicting worse days of suffering and death, even in rural areas. The magnitude of death is unfathomable.

I try to take it in, my mind darting back and forth from the pleasant afternoon air to the gloom of suffering I know is there, just beyond reach. My heart thinks on those who are sick, whose loved ones wait by the telephone for news, for those whose hearts are breaking with complicated layers of grief and disbelief.  Perhaps this is the way I pray--holding the faceless and nameless in my mind and heart, for a long moment, making myself acknowledge their presence even at the edges of my life.

My heart can feel—in small pieces--the weight of this virus on our world, and then I must return to the safety of my own life.  At least, I think it is safe.  For now.

The Book of Common Prayer (1928), in the burial service, says, “in the midst of life we are in death” not to frighten but to liberate us with truth.  Tomorrow is not a guarantee, although it is certainly a hope and prayer.   

Instead, it is clear that life is a thin and precious thread, easily snapped.  Strong and fragile.  It is a gift.  

It is easy to take life for granted, assuming and planning for tomorrow, years, decades into the future.  That itself is another gift, the ability to put our own deaths out of mind.

But something surprises us.  An acquaintance does not get up one morning.  A colleague falls ill and may not recover. A close friend enters hospice and counts her waning days.  The news is full of the not surprising but ever-present suffering of human beings, and we feel for them, sometimes overwhelmed with the sorrow of the country and world.  These moments wake us again to the reality that life is a fragile gift of God. The most hearty and healthy of us can die. It can happen to any of us.  It will. And then our hearts flutter.

Living with knowledge of our finitude need not paralyze us.  That life is short and fragile, a gift of which we are not in charge nor in control, can turn us to gratitude instead of to fear.

When the morning comes, we give thanks for it, upon our first awareness and through the day.  When we lie down at night, we praise the gift of life and its Author.  While we go through the day of work and play, we engage it wholly, as if it were our first, or last, as if it were of ultimate value.  It is.  We care for our lives, doing what we know is good and right for us.  Being present to this day, this life, even with its own set of hardships, is a way of giving thanks for it.

We make plans for tomorrows because we can, because we must.  But today is a pearl of great price.  That knowledge gives us substance upon which to pray, meditate, and be grateful.

I try not to let my mind go to the what-ifs, or to borrow trouble. But I know that we live in the midst of death, especially now, and always, and today.  Amidst the sting of death, and challenge, sorrow and drudgery, amidst the horrors and joys, this life is precious.  Thanks be to God for it.

Jan Fuller has been the University Chaplain at Elon since 2011.  She is an Episcopal priest and deeply invested in helping students to find their own spiritual paths while interacting with others in differing paths with appreciation and respect. Raised in Beirut Lebanon for the first half of her life, Jan is the daughter of Southern Baptist missionaries to the Arab peoples of the Middle East. Jan’s education includes a Doctor of Ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a B.A. in English and French from Hollins University. Jan describes herself as a “war-zone survivor,” who retains a sense of humor and love of gentleness.  She loves Arab art and food, and all kinds of music. She intends to find the gift in every day and to live her life as a way of giving thanks.

Contact: jfuller3@elon.edu

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