Greeting a cold bright morning
watching a shower of golden leaves
falling steadily from the popple and cottonwoods
frost glistening on wilted grass
listening to the whir of traffic, a distant crow call,
and the rustle of crispy leaves
as they blanket the earth
Yesterday, I wrote down words that flowed through me, a poem of sorts. If it’s accepted for publication, it won’t be posted here. Yet I wanted to share some of the things I realized in the process of trying to explain thoughts and feelings about what we have all lived through during the past two years. I asked a friend to listen to the poem before I sent a draft to the potential publisher. She pointed out that the poem highlighted the advice I shared with her a while ago that had helped her through a difficult time. I didn’t realize how consistently the strategy I shared with her has helped me face challenging situations in my own life.
I learned to repeat a simple mantra in my thoughts.
“Just breathe,” I told myself when I faced an audience of 50 people or more, when I stood before State legislators to present testimony, when I lost someone dear, or when I had to resolve conflict in contentious situations. It’s a mantra that helped me survive the challenges of asthma, anxiety, and allergies that have periodically forced me to consciously focus on breathing. It helped me survive an undiagnosed illness in mid-March 2020 that left me struggling for breath for more than a week, returning periodically for several months afterwards. Hopping on a self-propelled treadmill, I forced myself to keep breathing. “Just breathe, just breathe, just breathe.”
It worked. I am here to write these words, grateful to my daughter who delivered groceries to my doorstep when I was too sick to go out and was unwilling to expose others to whatever I had.
As I wrote my poem of sorts yesterday, I relived heartbreaking events. I thought of the Corona virus that continues to strike indiscriminately, disabling and killing millions around the globe as it attacks people’s ability to breathe. And I thought of the masks that make breathing harder but may protect others which have caused so much controversy. I thought of George Floyd’s words as he lay dying during a painful, brutal, police execution on May 25, 2020. “I can’t breathe.” I thought of the fires raging around the globe making the air unbreathable thousands of miles away and devastating so many lives in the process. I thought of the discharges from industries that fill cities with toxic pollution, often located in the poorest neighborhoods throughout the nation and the world. Breathing clean air is a luxury that so many people do not have. Being able to breathe free of oppressive forces interwoven throughout social institutions is even rarer still.
There’s not much, if anything, I can do to change global conquests for control that leave so many people gasping for breath or thirsting for safe water to bathe in, drink, and share with crops to feed families and communities. But I can set aside time each day to breathe and reflect, to envision practical ideas for raising awareness, encouraging caring, and inspiring local solutions that just might mobilize others to engage in concrete, constructive efforts to live with greater care for each other and the earth.
For now, I am grateful I can “just breathe,” and do work that may help others do so, too.