Friday, 14 March 2008


“Ninety percent of the world's woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves.” Sydney J. Harris

The fabric of our life is so thin and so easily torn, our existence so easily disrupted. We can be very optimistic and think ourselves invincible, invulnerable, as though we can conquer the world. We lunge forward recklessly like the fool on the tarot deck, mindless of the yawning precipice in front of us. We are like ants scurrying around and busily marching onward unaware of the foot that hovers above us ready to crush us out of existence.

Everything was going well and then early this morning I found myself in the emergency department of the hospital accompanying a friend who became acutely ill. On the way there I spoke to the ambulance driver who told me that this Friday night in Brisbane was a particularly nasty one. Drunkenness, brawls, fights, accidents, incidents. In the Emergency department the whole gamut of injuries: Cracked heads, acutely ill patients, comatose people, broken limbs, druggies groaning in withdrawal, drunks abusing the medical staff, concerned friends and relatives hovering about, police investigating accidents, nurses and doctors purposefully and efficiently to-ing and fro-ing… And so many young people all around! What are our youth doing to themselves? Drugs, alcohol, violence, destructive relationships, self-mutilation, social crippling.

An emergency department teaches us important lessons about human frailty. This a tour that the vainglorious and proud must take; a guide should show the place to the young and self-professed “invincible”; the healthy and the self-assured should see on what a razor’s edge we balance every day of lives. Time conspires with fortune, luck would play at dice with fate, and human frailty must suffer the vicissitudes of chance. Our only aids for survival are faith and prudence, the only sweeteners of our afflictions are love and hope.

I am not a fatalist, nor do I believe in some inscrutable kismet determining our existence. We are the masters of our own destiny, to a large extent. However, circumstances out of our control, unfortunate coincidences, unplanned-for exigencies and cascading torrents of consequences of thoughtless choices may lead to that mass of tortured broken humanity that confronted me this morning in hospital. Here is Sting, singing what is possibly his best song, “Fragile”:

PS: My friend is feeling better tonight. She was diagnosed with renal colic and treated.

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