Monday, July 6, 2009

Breathe in...breathe out

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel July 6, 3009)

Breathe in ... breathe out.

We do it about 20,000 times each day. That's more than 7 million times a year for every year of our lives. From the moment of birth until the instant of death, people process the world through the act of respiration. Good air (oxygen) comes in. Bad air (carbon dioxide) goes out. Breathing is an action so automatic — so second-nature — that most of us are barely aware it's happening.

Not me. For as long as I can remember, I've been attuned to how well (or not well) my breath is flowing.

I was one of those kids with allergies — dark circles under my eyes, a constant stuffiness-runniness in my nose and a soggy, white tissue permanently affixed to my clenched right hand. I never went anywhere without a supply of Kleenex wadded up in pants pockets or tucked into the side pouch of a backpack or purse.

Things haven't changed much for me in adulthood. Although I've figured out which allergy medicine works best and have successfully managed to avoid dairy products (a major allergic trigger), I still find myself tethered to a clutch of tissues. And those dark circles beneath my eyes continue to elicit the occasional crass comment.

"Who gave you the two black eyes?" some witless twerp will inevitably ask. As a child, I found such thoughtless remarks devastating. Now I give them the attention they deserve, which is no attention at all. I find myself annoyed more by the offender's lack of sensitivity than by the words themselves.

Despite a lifetime of labored breathing, the situation during mid-June became particularly severe. Allergies, however, were not the culprit. An injured rib affected my breathing, making it extremely difficult to get a good breath.

"Just one breath — one long, deep breath. That's all I want," I murmured to myself. And when that breath finally came, I inhaled so gratefully. Fresh air — oxygen — was all I wanted. It was the only thing that mattered. Life was complete.

I promised myself that when I got better — when my bruised rib healed and I could once again breathe with relative ease — I would treasure each moment, each inhalation, each release. I'm at that point now. The hurt that caused my chest to feel like a compressed squeeze box has finally abated. I can catch a breath easily. I'm free of aches and pains. Even my allergies seem to have improved.

Sometimes it takes an injury, an accident or an illness to make us realize how much we stand to lose. Little things become significant when threatened or compromised. I'm not pleased to have allergies or a bruised right rib, but I'm glad for the insights those ailments provided.

Life is nothing if not full of surprises. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring — what problems, what joys, what pleasures, what woes. In light of such uncertainty, the only thing to do is to live each day fully and appreciate the little things that make life worthwhile. Simple things like breathing that we tend to take for granted.

Breathe in ... breathe out. It's what life's all about.

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