All that lives must breathe. If it does not breathe, it is not living. The trees and shrubbery outside my window inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. The birds in its branches and the 2nd grader walking home take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. The tree and the girl exist because the other does. Indeed, a coal miner might take that same bird into the cave to test the breathability of the air. The bird stops breathing, the miner is soon to follow. Find oxygen. breathe. live.
Breathing is at the forefront of my mind because for me it is not a given the function will behave properly. For some reason my lungs do not make the O2 – CO2 exchange correctly. Apparently, my heart is skewed at an “awkward” angle, the pulmonary arterial valve allows some regurgitation, and the pulmonary artery strains with pressure. So, when I performed the comprehensive pulmonary functions test this morning, I nearly ended up in the ER. Thankfully, my doctorate in mindfulness practices became useful, preventing me from passing out. Ugh.
The device for measure pulmonary function has been around for quite a while. Originally invented in the 1840s by the British surgeon, John Hutchinson, the Spirometry, spiro (to breathe) and meter (to measure), provides diagnostic information to assess lung function. Other devices and technology are now recruited to gauge a range of elements that impact lung function. That my daughters and several nephews live with impaired lunch function, I am grateful for these specialists who can monitor this very important somatic task! God bless Gale who did just that – expert and with great compassion – for me today.
But there is so much more involved than the inhalation of air, the expulsion of carbon. Our bodies are complex systems, each affecting the other, and when one piece isn’t working properly, other vital organs react. And everyone has unique reactions to dysfunctions that may occur. And these physical operations within the body are affected by equally complex outward systems of atmosphere, climate, social interactions, emotional counteractions, and countless other effects in between. I love the observation made by Pablo Neruda after a childhood exchange with another boy through a hole in the fence:
“To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses — that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.”
A simple exchange of a toy for a resin pinecone inspired Neruda to poetry, to leave gifts of words to those he would never meet, but with whom he will ever be connected. And this is the source of art, the reason we do art – it is human to create. It is divine to create.
My words, my being are linked to you, as you are to me. And just as the shrub outside my window exists because the girl walking past it does, I thrive because you are also in this world. Jesus said, As the Father loves me, so I love you; abide – live, breathe – in my love. And as I love you, love each other. My life for yours; yours, for each other. (Jn15:9-13) Yours is the air I breathe.
Breathe in gratitude for the stranger who offers unexpected kindness today.
Breathe out the fear from not understanding exactly what is going on.
Breathe in a sense of the very presence of the Holy Spirit.
Breathe out the remaining malaise and unease.
Breathe in gratitude for the gift of each breath.