Fragile is not the final word.

I was in line at the downtown post office last week, predictably underprepared with spontaneous earrings to send. There were just enough people in front of me to scribble “Thinking of you!” on the earrings’ cardboard backing, before tossing them into a package-for-purchase and adding the words FRAGILE in big block letters, front and back.

When it was my turn, I handed the bubble mailer triumphantly to the postal worker. His floppy gray hair flopped into place as he looked up with a smile and gestured to the credit card screen in front of me. Does this parcel contain anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous?

I froze, as if I never IN ALL MY LIFE saw this question coming. Suddenly, it triggered in me a deep down desire to dress up, play pretend, minimize my clanking contents.

You see, when I was in college, I applied for a summer fellowship that I very much wanted and very much expected to get. It was tailor-made for do-gooders like me and my friends who were weighing work in the non-profit sector. Digging deep to stand out in the application, I admitted not just my hopes for helping victims and survivors, abusers and healers, but my hopes that they would help me overcome a lifelong fear of the “other.”

Shockingly, I was NOT admitted to the fellowship.

When I did the thing Dad had taught me to do—requested a follow-up interview to get feedback for improvement—the college chaplain agreed. I remember only one word from that meeting: FRAGILE. I’d been deemed too fragile for the fellowship. And what does being termed too fragile force you to do?

Cry. Shake. Snot. Check.

Furious at my own tears, and furious at the rejection, I returned to my dorm room to make sense of his summary. All I could reason is that I had said too much. I had been too candid. My vulnerability had been weaponized. (It did not occur to me that perhaps I wasn’t ready for this real-world work.) And so I did what any dramatic character in the story of her life would do. I made a VOW.

Be. more. careful.

These words traveled with me through future relationships, future job applications, future post offices, the message the same every time: pull it together, pal.

Frozen in time in this customer service line, I looked at the package with my scrambled handwriting and then back to the question in front of me. At the package, back at the question, my eyes darted. A choice to make: keep covering up or lay it on the line? Finally, I admitted, “Well, I did write fragile all over it.”

I waited for the rebuke. I waited for the alarm. In all my years, I could never remember answering yes to this question and could not for the life of me imagine the consequence.

But there was no rebuke. There was no alarm. There was only a steady gaze and this reply from a floppy stranger: “It’s okay if it’s fragile.”

I could have kissed him.

His words—a love note from God, I was sure—worked their way on me all Lenten week long. What old vows have to die so that a new shout of vows can be born? Where am I being invited to show love to my shaky places—in my writing? my parenting? my sex life? And is it really okay to be fragile in a time like this and a body like mine? Surely, there were caveats!

One such came when over the weekend I got a text from my package’s recipient. “[Sad Face Emoji] Your mailer arrived but the earrings were missing!”

Damn, postal service! I thought. See it’s not okay to be fragile! I tore into God.

But after a day or two to digest the news, I thought better. I thought deeper. I thought that maybe the message wasn’t only that it’s okay to be fragile, but that fragile is not the final word.

You can get rejected …then get rolling again.

You can bear your heart…then change your mind.

You can say something stupid…then say you’re sorry.

You can be fragile today…and fiercer tomorrow.

As for me? After sitting a few days with my sad story, I picked out a pair of earrings from my personal collection, placed them perfectly in a cotton-filled box, and wrote my intentions for where to send as clear as day.

No qualifiers needed.

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