Life: locally fragile, globally resilient

Life: locally fragile, globally resilient

I just learned this morning that a good friend of mine passed away. His name was Glen and we became close while we were both living in Shanghai. Glen had not shown up to work for a week, so his boss called the Shanghai police. They entered his apartment to find that he was dead, and had been so for about a week. I don’t have any information about the cause of death. Glen was in his early 30’s so this is very unexpected.

I’m having a very difficult time processing this. Glen was in excellent health. He was in the EMBA program at the University of Chicago campus in Singapore. He had everything going for him. I had lunch with him 2 months ago when he was in Seattle on business. He was alive, vibrant, and so excited about his future.

As I have been reflecting on this today, there are some thoughts that have dominated my thinking.

The first is looking back on my experience in Shanghai and realizing how much of a bonding experience it was with the fellow expats I worked with there. Glen and I were close yet we didn’t spend all that much time together. We’d have the occasional lunch or cocktail, and we’d talk about our experiences in our respective MBA programs. The relative strength of the bond between us was significantly higher than it would have been with someone I had not shared China expat experience with.

The second thing is the amazing nature of life. A single life is something that is so fragile. It can be taken away at any time. It doesn’t take much for it to be taken away. Yet life on a global scale is so resilient.

Behind the building I used to work at in Shanghai was a large man-made pool of water. Rather than using chlorination or some other chemical process, the pool as cleaned by hand every 6-8 weeks. People would drain the pool completely and scrub away all of the algae and scum that had collected on the floor and walls of the pool. It would remain dry for 2-3 days and then they would refill it with water.

2 weeks later, magic would happen. I’d be walking near the pond and look down to see schools of small fish swimming in the water. I was curious how this could be and I surmised that there must have been eggs laid somewhere that had survived. Perhaps they were on the poles the held the walkways over the pond in place. Maybe on the side walls or corners where the cleaners hadn’t scrubbed quite hard enough. I saw this happen every time without fail. Life finds a way to continue on. We live on a planet that is so conducive to life that it has survived countless universal equivalents to emptying the pond behind my office.

Yet we as individuals might never see tomorrow.

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