“And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides
That it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?”~Kahlil Gibran.
Human connections are amazing. Although we are born into one family, we may find ourselves, if we are lucky, as comfortable in the homes of our friends as we are in our own. Or perhaps more! There are families, especially large ones, that when you enter them you disappear into the crowd, just one more child among many. Almost fifty years ago I became a part of such a family. I was the youngest in my own household, so to have younger ‘siblings’ made life more interesting. And annoying: you would catch someone listening in to secret conversations; or insisting on joining a private outing even when not invited!
We take so many miracles for granted. In nursing school we use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to understand what is important in life. According to this hierarchy, humans have to attend to certain basic physiological needs first. Needs such as eating, eliminating, rest and air come before security and connections. Families without a secure source of food are not going to be discussing college with their children. Food trumps education. But the most basic and absolute priority need is air. This fact gives nursing students an easy way to determine the correct answer in the many exams they have to sit. In a multiple choice question, if one of the answers has to do with airway or oxygen, that is more than likely the right answer. We must breathe to live. We can do without food, without exercise, without entertainment, but have no oxygen for more than 4 minutes and brain cells start to die. And yet we breathe without thinking. Until I mentioned it, you probably didn’t even notice the breath entering and leaving your body.
How often do we pay attention to our body? Of course there is the external aspect: we pay attention to our appearance, notice if clothes fit tighter or looser than usual. But unless our body is our income (like athletes, or models), we may go through the day without an awareness of the many functions it performs. How do we get from home to work? How do we process the world around us? How do our internal organs, our cells and tissues, function in perfect harmony to ingest, digest and provide nutrients to keep our cells working and providing energy for our busy bodies? Those of us without major health issues probably don’t even think about it.
But when the body breaks down, or if we have chronic illness or pain, we have to pay attention. People with disabilities have to plan their life around their limitations. They have to anticipate and make allowances; they have to be aware of their extra needs and plan accordingly. In acute illness, so much that we take for granted becomes a daily struggle. The simple act of breathing may suddenly seem like the most amazing miracle. For one of my ‘siblings’, this simple act became an unattainable goal.
Nurses confront illness, pain, dysfunction, suffering, every day. And yet we face it as observers. We objectively understand the pathophysiology. We can explain the signs and symptoms; predict possible outcomes; try to provide effective and therapeutic interventions. That is not the same as experiencing illness subjectively. Once, when I visited my father-in-law, who had previously suffered a stroke, I tried to give him some tips and pointers. He stopped me short. You may be a nurse, he told me, ‘but you don’t know sick’. It often takes our own illness, or the illness of a family member, to help us to understand that truth. What is it really like to be the one who is in the bed? What does it really feel like to feel hopeless and powerless when your body lets you down? If, as someone involved in a healing profession, you can ask yourself that question, you may become a better nurse/doctor/therapist/person.
As my sister fought the brave fight, and struggled against all odds, she was surrounded and supported by a loving family and an amazing network of prayer warriors. Day and night prayers were sent up in her name. Loving thoughts beamed at her from around the world. Miracles small and large manifested daily. Through her suffering she brought countless people closer to God, and she no doubt grew closer in the process. She certainly had angels attending her. And she changed the lives of those who cared for her. I have no doubt that all who came in contact with her were aware of the love that supported her, even when her own body no longer could. And I hope that it changed the way they looked at their other patients; that they wondered, if only for a moment, what it must be like to be the one in the bed.
There is a line in an old song which says ‘Love is like oxygen’. And a hymn: ‘Breathe on me breath of God’. The most powerful verse in that hymn says:
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
till I am wholly thine,
till all this earthly part of me
glows with thy fire divine.
It is not easy watching someone that you love struggle and finally lose the fight. But I am comforted by a message that I received shortly after losing two other people in my immediate family. I could see them both saying “Ah, I get it now!” Sometimes we become obsessed with the trivia of life, bogged down in our perceived big problems, when it really doesn’t matter.
What matters is the connections we make with each other; the way we choose to live our lives. This Friday morning I hope you will stop and pay attention to your amazing body, the simple breath, and the things and people we take for granted. And may you know how much you are loved. Have a fabulous weekend Family!
(Fly away home).