I’m reminded daily about how little I know and understand. I work with people who are suffering, whose symptoms may fit prescribed diagnostic criteria but yet defy explanation or reason. They care about what relief I might offer rather than a label that names the illness.
Like so much in medicine, what I witness daily is unexplained and unexplainable. What I do know I carry with me, small and honorable and shareable. I offer it up to each patient, one after another: here is what I think might help. here is your next step to take. here is the hope that goes with taking each breath, the next and the next.
Even when standing in the dark, as we all do at times in our life, we just keep breathing. In and out. In and out. We are filled even when empty.
…and there was once, oh wonderful, a new horse in the pasture, a tall, slim being–a neighbor was keeping her there– and she put her face against my face, put her muzzle, her nostrils, soft as violets, against my mouth and my nose, and breathed me, to see who I was, a long quiet minute–minutes– then she stamped her feet and whisked tail and danced deliciously into the grass away, and came back. She was saying, so plainly, that I was good, or good enough. ~Mary Oliverfrom “The Poet Goes to Indiana”
Our farm has had many muzzles here over the years–
nondescript not-sure-what-color noses,
noses that have white stripes, diamonds, triangles,
or absolutely no marks at all.
Hot breath that exudes warm grassy fragrance
better than any pricey perfume,
lips softer than the most elegant velvet.
Noses that reach out in greeting to:
breathe me in
and breathe for me,
smudge my face and
I’m just good enough
such a baptism blessing.
“An absolute patience. Trees stand up to their knees in fog. The fog slowly flows uphill. White cobwebs, the grass leaning where deer have looked for apples. The woods from brook to where the top of the hill looks over the fog, send up not one bird. So absolute, it is no other than happiness itself, a breathing too quiet to hear.”
– Denise Levertov, The Breathing
Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. Scout Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
How can I appreciate something
that is a constant,
like breathing the next breath,
it never registers
in my consciousness
until the moment
it might be rent asunder,
just as delicate as a web
hanging heavy with evening frost?
Within that deprivation
is the realization
that what I rely on
for my very existence
is not a given.
Suddenly it becomes
the most precious thing of all.
For that ephemeral knowledge
of our fragility on this earth,
for our dependency on our Maker,
who gives us our next breath,
I am truly and forever