The Air That I Breathe

I’m pretty sure I didn’t take a single breath for 3 days straight last week. I’m not sure how I survived this, and it took its toll. I clenched my jaws at night. Got a crick in my neck. Got a headache. The thing is, I thought I was breathing. I did yoga, took some long walks (wearing a mask of course), rode my bike. All of which, I have learned, you can do without really breathing. This breathing moratorium came to an abrupt halt a few days ago when I was wrestling a huge trunk of ivy on our back fence, the ivy mostly winning. Suddenly, without warning, GASP! my lungs filled with air. Beautiful, wonderful, life-giving air. Instantly, every muscle in my body relaxed, so did my thoughts, and I’ve been breathing ever since.

I’m not sure why this one breath finally got through to my lungs. Perhaps, unlike the other unsuccessful attempts, once through my nostrils, this particular breath managed to fight through all the bad news swirling around in my head and consequently was awarded the hall pass down to my lungs. Or, It could be that I was holding my breath in solidarity with all of those fighting for theirs. But that single inhale made it through, and paved the way for more, and I’m so glad. I’m feeling so much better.


But I’ve been thinking about this breathing standstill ever since, wondering what it was all about. The song from The Hollies comes to mind. All I fear is the air that I breathe and to… That’s not the way it goes, you say? I know. But you get my point.

The thing is, I don’t want to be afraid of air. I love air! Fresh air! It’s part of why I love living in Santa Cruz. We get so much of it off the bay. And it’s rich air. Sea level air. Not that thin stuff you get up in the mountains. I love it! So what got me to stop breathing?

Here is the moment I think it happened. I was riding my bike out to West Cliff where there is a popular bike path that runs along the edge of the bay. It was Easter weekend, and the beaches were shut down. So were the parks. Surfing was outlawed. Shit! You could get a $1000.00 fine. All in an effort to keep tourists from flooding into our town and us having a Florida on our hands. And I got it. I did. But I thought a ride to West Cliff would be okay. Then I got out there and saw a lot of other people had the same idea, and not all of them were practicing social distancing, so I turned back. It didn’t feel safe. This was a blow. See, back in 1979 when I moved to Santa Cruz (Yeah. I’m that old), I was in a bad way. I was running from a messy breakup, was in a borrowed car that I’d driven up from San Diego, didn’t know a soul in Santa Cruz, and, besides my meager belongings I had Hulk, a parakeet I was responsible for. (How I got Hulk is a whole other story.) But on that day that I arrived in Santa Cruz, when everything felt like it was going to shit, I somehow found my way out to West Cliff, and the beautiful Monterey Bay, and I have a vivid memory of thinking, So long as I can come here, everything will be okay. So it was with some reluctance, on my recent Easter bike ride, that I turned back. And it was in that moment, I think, that I stopped breathing. It was like, the world as I knew it was gone. My safe place was no longer safe. The air was no longer safe. 


But the beaches are supposed to be reopened today, so all is not lost. And I’m going to stop being afraid of air. Of course, I will continue to wear a mask in public places, and I will continue to practice social distancing. But no more thinking the air is contaminated. Because mostly it’s not. Mostly it’s yummy—and is, ironically, getting cleaner by the day. So, while this mean virus is trying to take air from all it infects, until it does, which I sincerely hope it doesn’t (for you and for me), I’m going to flood my lungs with air. Breathe it in. Breathe it out. Replace fear with trust. Stay alert. Stay informed. Stay in the moment. And breathe!

In closing, I hope you and your loved ones are all well. I hope you are finding ways to stay sane. If you are struggling, I wish you strength and perseverance to soldier through. And as always, remember to live the love. It’s all we’ve really got. And don’t forget to breathe!

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