*Every time you read the word breath/breathe, consciously taking a deep breath.*
A virus begins to spread across our country. Bodies begin to ache. Fevers begin to climb. Lungs struggle to breathe.
The virus is highly contagious, and its effects are unpredictable. Older populations and those with prior health conditions seem to be most vulnerable. If they contract the virus, they may end up on ventilators. An experience, some say, that feels like dying, strapped down by tubes and wires that allow you to breathe.
A national pandemic is declared. Everyday there are new headlines, new data, new hypotheses. But they cannot get ahead of the virus’ reach. Overwhelmed by information, we find it hard to breathe.
Out of the soil, Love created flesh. Love exhaled life and humanity awoke.
Cases of the virus begin to rise and lock-downs are ordered. Social functions are cancelled, public systems freeze, businesses close. People are encouraged to work from home, away from the air-borne virus. Others must weigh the choices of life or livelihood. They carry our packages, pack our groceries, and tend to our sick, now scared to take each breath.
Households are now our only circles. Partners, children, roommates, and families are crammed together with no breaks or escapes. Domestic violence rises. Mental health declines. Parents hide in their rooms and lock the door just to get a moment of quiet. We feel like we are suffocating, unable to catch our breath.
Emergency rooms encounter an increase of people who think they have the virus. Many of those people are actually having a panic attack. Driven by fear of the virus, they experience similar symptoms: aches, chills, and the inability to regulate their breath.
The number of cases rise and so do the number of lives lost. We cannot visit our vulnerable loved ones. We say good-bye to the dying through a screen. Communities are unable to grieve together in ritual. And still, other health crises continue. Women labor alone. People learn of cancer diagnoses over a screen. We feel alone in the moments that take away our breath.
Love looked at what had been made and said, “It is not good for human to be alone.”
A black man[i] is arrested on suspicion of a small crime and pinned to the ground by a man with a badge. He slowly suffocates, his breathing restricted under the weight of a white man. The nation erupts in protest, raging against the many black lives that are unjustly ended, crying out for justice in the systems that allow these tragedies to occur. The protests grow larger each day, the streets fill with crowds. They wear masks as protection from the airborne virus, many which bear the man’s last words: “I can’t breathe.”
Many of the protests become violent. Angry, hurt people loot and destroy so that their pain is heard. Their anger incites more anger which is fueled by hatred and fear. The fatal flaws in our police system receive national attention. They are underlined as police respond to protests with brutal force against citizens. Protests that started peacefully end in clouds of tear-gas, people ripping off their face masks in the struggle to breathe.
The largest civil rights movement in our country has been ignited, demanding reform from a country built on racism. Many communities are in grief because this is a familiar story of their trauma. Many are rising up to fight for justice. Some are just waking up to the realities around them. In a land of spacious skies where freedom rings, not everyone has equal air to breathe.
The smoldering tension of our nation spills over into her forests. Smog covers the West coast and residents are told not to leave their houses. As summer heat swells, people can’t even open their windows. Those who do essential work must continue anyway, farmhands struggling to do their tasks in air that is too dangerous to breathe.
Love bestowed on humanity the freedom to choose.
They chose disconnection and destruction.
They chose to harm the creation that sustained them.
We choose this over again and again.
Cases continue to rise. Schools and business attempt to reopen and operate in new ways to prevent the spread. Teachers are exhausted. Mothers who hadn’t already lost their jobs, have to quit them, to help their children learn at home. We return to a new, anxious “normal” and we hold our breath.
Students who had their senior graduations cancelled now begin their first year of college on a screen. Their younger siblings learn remotely next to them. It is hard for everyone to connect, to focus at home, to keep up with the increased workload of virtual learning. Students who used to love school aren’t coping well in this environment. They await the grades that will impact their futures, holding their breath.
The tensions that had been rising in our country increase as an election arrives. Business owners board up their businesses in anticipation of violence. We are distracted and anxious as we await results. It feels like a whole country is holding its breath.
The numbers of cases and deaths from the virus continue to reach new highs. New restrictions are put in place and holidays are cancelled. Bracing for a dark winter, we hold our breath.
Is there hope after The Fall?
Love understands our seasons of suffering.
Love embraced it, and with a loud cry
gave a final breath.
Where do you see Love rising?
After a descent into darkness,
Love inhaled new life.[ii]
What gives you renewed strength to breathe?
Footnotes: [i] Because of the #saytheirname movement, I deliberated the use of the phrase ‘black man.’ I consciously made the choice to keep it to stay consistent with the vague, poetic style of the piece. His name was George Floyd and his life mattered. [ii] I used the Christian narrative throughout this meditation as a guiding frame of hope. My intention is not to conclude that Jesus is the answer, but to offer reflection around our personal sources of restoration in dark times.