Breathe On

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“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Rachel Carson

My daughter and I traveled to Chicago this past weekend for a quick visit to see my brother. We were greeted with a cold that sinks into the bones. A cold that delivers to the layers of down and wool a knowing wink as it passes straight to the marrow. Huddling and chattering around paper cups of hot cocoa, we shivered our way through the city, including the architectural boat tour. The stunning Chicago riverfront a respite from the freeze. Autumn was in full display – crunchy leaves and overcast skies lent our visit a warm hue to color our memories.

On the return flight, I learned my window seat companion was en route to Montana to meet up with buddies for a hunting trip. He, a resident of Pennsylvania, had never been west of Ohio. I tend to be one of those people on the airplane. I like to pass the flight, chatting about this and that, learning and listening to stories. Mike’s and my time together was entertaining as we perused the flight map and traced the arced line to determine our general location. I’m not much help in these situations. I guessed we were somewhere over Iowa, Kansas, or Nebraska.

Anticipating his first view of the Rockies, he inquired about each and every dirt hill across the patchwork of farmland. I answered with expertise that the mountains would be obvious.

Once the peaks came into view his excitement was uncontainable, for this was his first time in twenty-seven years to witness snow covered peaks. He asked why I didn’t tell him they were so amazing. I shrugged. Words can do no justice, I said

The wonder upon his discovery was infectious. For me, flying into Denver, the view is nice but the mountains are small and distant and everything is brown this time of year. It was nice to try on his lens for awhile, to view the landscape from his perspective.

I needed his wonder for I am finding myself desensitized. As a person who seeks information and understanding, striving to respond, I realize with our current news cycle that wonder, awe, expectation have become collateral damage. This is a tragedy.

Tuesday’s attack on Manhattan barely shocked me. I was sad and hurting for the community, but the news wasn’t surprising. Has this level of violence become commonplace? Are we supposed to now accept trucks running down pedestrians and high-powered rifles spraying crowds?

I asked my daughter for her thoughts. She shrugged and said: This is the world we live in. It’s been going on my whole life. True.This is her life. This is all of our lives.

But I’m not ready to accept this as reality. I’m not ready for this to be my normal. I’m not okay with ignorance.

Just as I want to be awed by season changes and beauty in nature and snowcapped peaks, I want to remain shocked by events such as this.

But it’s every day. And I’m tired. My body, mind, and heart are not designed to consume this much information. The news is unrelenting, but I will not claim ignorance. I cannot claim ignorance.

As a teenager and college student I participated in choir and band. One of the techniques we employed to collectively carry a long tone, longer than our lungs allowed, was staggered breathing. Through negotiation and planning, my neighboring musicians and I would consult one another to determine where we could each breathe without disrupting the larger sound. This accomplished two things. One, I didn’t faint in my attempt to support the greater good. And two, the tone remained strong and healthy, aware, uninterrupted.

We have to learn how to stagger our breath. We have to protect our souls, our minds, our relationships, our communities. We protect by working together, by employing our neighbors to be on when we need to be off. We have to protect our shock and outrage, reacting as needed to injustice, abuse, and lies. We have to protect our wonder, our hope, and our generosity toward our neighbors, supporting the larger community through our wholeness.

The fight against cynicism and nihilism and numbing is real. These days are overloaded – a new crisis, a new normal, a new baseline all clamoring for our apathy. I don’t want to settle for this. My faith and my conscience won’t let me. But the fatigue is ever-present and we are being asked as a decent and loving people to endure more than we are capable.

Who are our trusted friends? Who are our fellow travelers and breath staggerers in this resistance movement for decency and hope?

We cannot afford apathy.

We must persist for joy and goodness.

Mike, my airplane neighbor, upon witnessing the snow capped Rocky Mountain peaks for the first time was reverent and grateful. He could not contain his excitement as his infectious awe melted my accustomed heart. His wonder drew a tear to my eye, a reminder of my tremendous need to claim hope.

The goodness of the world demands our rest and our fight, our outrage and our peace. Through renewal, we can stand firm and refreshed in our convictions. Through sharing the load by staggering our breathing, we can protect wonder and awe and beauty.

Breathe on friends.