It's such an easy thing to take for granted. We do it without thought until we can't do it, and then? It's all we can think about.
It is the focus of many meditation methods, yoga, and exercise coaches often exhort their students to do it.
We do it consciously to help us calm down.
To draw breathe, exhale, repeat as infinitum, from birth to death.
The first thing I say in my track communications class is "Before you make your call remember to breathe, because oxygen is your friend", which draws a laugh and reminds people to quell the panic, be calm, speak clearly. Breathing helps with that.
Asthma tends to throw a spanner into the breathing works.
I grew up struggling for breath. One good, honest, deep breath was a miracle to me. On asthma days, I had to sit on the sidelines and watch other kids run and play. I couldn't swing or climb trees or even walk very fast. Some days I had to focus everything I had on putting one foot in front of the other, had to fight for every expansion and contraction of my lungs. Some days speaking or even sitting up was out.
I was surrounded by smokers, so a clean air was at a premium.
I had three triggers for my asthma: stress, allergies, and extreme cold, of which there were plenty in New England.
I learned a lot about how my body functions with low oxygen. I learned some non-medical things about how to forestall an attack if I was aware of the onset - breathe through a wet paper towel, keep a cool cloth on my chest, drink caffeinated beverages
I learned that I could swim even on a bad day, but nothing helped on the worst days except being very still and focusing on each breath as if it were my last.
I learned that asthma isn't the inability to inhale, it is the inability to exhale. Put simply, the lining of the lungs swells and creates pockets that trap indrawn air. If you can't get the used air out, you can't get new air in. The wheezing you hear is air trying to push out of those pockets. Sometimes, if you're one of the especially lucky ones, you also get crackling from mucous build up. Guess who was a lucky one?
A couple of times, it almost turned to pneumonia. Once, it did, double.
Once, in another country where I didn't speak much of the language, it put me in the hospital. I'll tell you about it sometime.
When you are fighting with your whole body to just breath, you become very, very focused. The world fades, and your attention shrinks to the simple act of making your chest rise and fall.
The most intense moment is the one between breaths. That's the moment when you don't know if there will be another inhalation, if your chest will expand one more time or if it will fail. That's where you're tired and don't know if you should keep fighting, or if maybe you could just quit and rest a while. It is no longer an unconscious, involuntary act - without thought, without effort, the breathing will not happen.
That between moment is a doorway of sorts. Standing at the threshold between two worlds, balanced, waiting.
With the advent of steroid inhalers and home nebulizers, it's easier to treat asthma, for which I am grateful. You see, the Evil Genius has asthma. Both of his grandmothers smoke/d (Mum quit when he was born, T's mother still smokes), and apparently that makes it exponentially more likely that a child will have respiratory issues.
When he was little and had an attack, I would sit up at night and watch him as he slept, still fighting with all his might, his tiny body exhausted but rigid wit the effort of breathing. I would watch, and count, and wonder if this, this was the breath that send us to the hospital. A few times I bundled him up and hauled him into the city to be plugged in, hooked up, poked and prodded, and finally given that asthma-easing vapor. When I finally got the diagnosis of asthma and the prescription for the nebulizer I was delighted - I could save us the stress of the ER!
I hate that I passed this to my son. I hate that he has had to fight the same battle that I did. I hate that he has had to discover the between place and dwell in that timeless moment, and one of the few things I pray about is that unlike me, his asthma will not follow him into adulthood. That and that Sprout will not be similarly afflicted.
I also pray that he won't get stuck in that place between, lost in the vast distance that spans from one breath to the next when the lungs have gone haywire.
Close your eyes and breathe. Nice, isn't it? Take one for me, would you?