When you are young you take certain things for granted. At least I did. Things that some people fight and pray for, most people don’t even think about. Things like breathing. It’s actually a rather complex bodily function when it comes down to it, but most of us can go through an entire day without even thinking about it. Then, in an instant, life can take your breath away. Things that once seemed normal now require almost superhuman effort. Things like breathing. Allow me to expound.
It was a day that we knew was coming. There would be a day of monumental change and loss. It was not a matter of “if”, but rather of “when.” There are many of these types of days in our lives, but for some reason they seem to always take us by surprise. This one certainly did. The phone rang early in the morning and it woke me up. It was my wife, and immediately I could tell that the plans we had for this day were going to change. Her father had called her, and we needed to come over right away. It seemed today would be the day we lost her mom.
I had never been a in the room when someone died before, and I was mortified. What would it be like? What would I do? These and many more questions had sat in my brain for months, and even now they were still without answers. But life doesn’t slow down just because you want it to, and it didn’t that day either. And when the moment came, it was kind of like breathing – only slightly different. You see when you breathe, there is both the in and the out. In comes the oxygen to be used by our bodies, and out goes the carbon dioxide that we cannot use. But in this moment, there was only inhale. We breathed in and didn’t want to let go.
It was like right before you go under water. You take in as much air as you can, and you hold it there, making sure your lungs don’t flood with water causing you to drown. In this case it wasn’t water that would drown us, but sorrow, grief and stress. And so it seemed that we held our collective breath for what seemed like forever. We held it till our faces turned blue. When you deprive your body of oxygen it doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to. Things become much more difficult. So was the case with life too. Things that had been easy before now required much more energy. Things we had loved to do now seemed to be without joy. And yet we held our breath, not wanting to let go.
Exhaling is a kind of release. A way of getting rid of all the junk you don’t need and making way for the new to come in. This is what we didn’t know how to do. We were hesitant to exhale. As long as we held our breath we knew what would happen. It was hard, but in a way it was safe. Exhaling meant acknowledging we had to start again, and that seemed to be too much to take on. But eventually we had no choice. We had run out of air. Life had to begin again. We needed to move on. And so we exhaled. We let go. But a strange thing happened. As we tried to breath in, it was much harder than we remembered. It took so much more effort. What had once been so simple and so natural, now took so much work.
As time passed the living and breathing continued to be labor some, although it began to feel more normal that way. So we continued, one foot in front of the next, one day at a time. Not just me and my wife, but all of us really. There comes a day or a time at which for all of us, the breathing seems to become work. People die, we lose a job, a marriage fails, things are broken, and we realize we can’t fix them. We become hesitant to exhale. We hold our breath, waiting and watching. Some would say, because the breathing is so hard, perhaps drowning would be easier. They would be wrong. Because although it may be easier, drowning is definitely not better. The work is worth it. Life is worth it.
And so we continue, all of us, one breath at a time. Not because we have to, but because we can. Because we have been given a gift and the only real way to show our appreciation, is to use it to the best of our ability. To offer it up as a sacrifice, and allow it to help make the breathing of others a little less labored. So if only just for today, don’t take it for granted. Be thankful for the breath of life, even if it feels like work. This is life, and we can’t live it holding our breath. Be willing to exhale, even when it’s scary, even if it hurts, and make way to let the new come in.