2016 has been full of surprise and heartbreak, fear and change. It’s been heavy and uncomfortable.
It’s been hard to breathe.
And I’m not just talking about my own life experiences, here.
I’m talking about the world at large.
While all eyes have been on the United States these past weeks, those eyes – full of what seems like more scrutiny and concern and sorrowful tears than ever before – have darted from country to country and situation to situation since we rang in 2016.
Death has come knocking for established and beloved artists and career professionals, including David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Muhammad Ali, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, and young, vibrant up-and-comers like Jose Fernandez and Christina Grimmie, just to name a few. It has snatched away our dearest family and friends. Sometimes peacefully, sometimes viciously.
Take a moment to breathe.
It gets worse.
Violence has continued to run rampant, taking the lives of thousands across the globe. The Orlando nightclub shooting, the terror attacks in Brussels, Iraq, and Kashmir. In our schools, in our own streets and backyards. Fort Wayne has had a record-setting number of homicides in 2016, and our city is not unique in that. St. Louis, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit.
Earthquakes and hurricanes have caused devastation with an angry swipe of their mighty, spiteful hands, over and over, continent to continent.
Nearly 12 million Syrian people, displaced from their war-torn homes, have sought and continue to seek refuge in countries that fear them and the destruction they’ll surely cause with weapons built from the clothes on their backs and the tears in their eyes – the only belongings they were able to escape with – turning them away, shouting obscenities at their backs as they flee.
Countries have erupted into chaos following disruptive and unexpected outcomes like Brexit and President-elect Trump, and now fear for the future of their country, their children.
The Zika virus.
Nuclear bomb testing.
And you’re stuck in traffic.
Late for work.
The kids are screaming.
Your boss is smothering.
You’re financially strapped.
There’s a leak in the roof.
A crack on your screen.
Deadlines are past due.
Conversations are turning into arguments.
You question if you’re still in love.
With your partner.
The phone rings with the call you’ve been dreading:
“He didn’t make it.”
Is it getting hard to breathe yet?
It is for me. But here’s the thing:
I’m still getting air.
It’s painful. It’s raspy. In this moment, it’s not enough.
I feel faint, weak, shaky.
My chest is heavy.
But my body keeps fighting for the air I know still surrounds me.
Sometimes, when I’m at work or out running errands, or even in the comfort of my own home, I get panicky like this. Sometimes I know exactly what has set me off, and sometimes I have absolutely no idea. In any case, I have to escape to the restroom, to my car, to a private space – to catch my breath.
Almost always, I’m sure I’m going to pass out.
Breathe in, in, in…
The room starts spinning.
The ringing in my ears is unbearable.
Sometimes I get physically sick.
Why can’t I fill my lungs?
Sometimes I cry.
Sometimes I’m too numb to react at all.
But one thought carries me through. One thought I’ve learned to repeat, no matter what I can or can’t do physically in those moments:
“This won’t kill me. This cannot kill me.”
It may hurt like hell, but I know I’m not going to die.
“I’m not dying.”
And I always walk away from it, alive.
Weaker for a time, maybe.
Shaken for awhile, perhaps.
But always, always, I’m alive.
And in time, I’m breathing comfortably again.
In and out. In and out.
We’ve had some trying times, friends. Some dark, troubling, uncertain moments and days and weeks have plagued our world this year, and in the many, many years before it. Just when we catch our breath, just when the aches and pains in our heart and lungs begin to fade away, we’re hit with the pain, the anxiety, the struggle to breathe again.
If you’re reading this now, though, one thing is for certain: You are alive. You are ALIVE! Why? What, in your life, is worth breathing for?
Think about it. Right now. Think of one person, one thing, one place, one future plan that keeps you going.
When this world gets heavy – and let’s face it, it will continue to again and again and again – it’s okay to panic. To be angry, to scream, to weep, to struggle to breathe at all of these things that feel so out of our control, so unfair. That often are out of our control and unfair.
And it’s okay to ache long after the break down.
But through it all, remember this: It will not kill you. It cannot kill you.
And when you regain your composure, when you’re standing again, as you move forward into the future, alive and breathing, don’t pretend it didn’t happen.
Because whatever “it” is, did happen. It affected you deeply. It hurt you, scared you, in some way changed a piece of you.
But it didn’t kill you.
On a scientific level, it’s because your body is working. All of your different organs know what they need to do to bring you back, and working together – communicating, sending signals, listening and responding, putting all the strength they’ve got into it, together – they keep you alive.
Your body didn’t give up.
On a spiritual level, it’s because you know, deep down, that you have something to live for. Maybe it’s your faith, your children, your goals, your cause. Maybe it’s the love and trust your heart holds for any or all of these, and more.
Your spirit didn’t give up.
You didn’t give up.
And the universe didn’t give up on you.
You remembered how to breathe.
Amid all of the chaos and uncertainty and destruction taking place around you, you’re still living. You survived for a reason. We. Are. Still Here.
And our world, which is undoubtedly having a hard time breathing, too, will survive whatever the universe burdens it with and tests it with, if we, as a people, a global community, can react the way our bodies and our hearts do in times of our own panicked breathing.
Like our brain and our organs – all so different from one another – work together, communicating to our bodies that, “this is the right thing. Trust me. This will keep her alive,” so must we communicate with each other, despite our differences, to get better. We must work together, support each other, trust each other.
Like our faith and devotion to whatever it is that gives our spirits strength – that carries us through the toughest times on the basis of love and passion, so must we love each other and believe in one another. And not only that, but we must take some of that strength and passion that comes from whatever guides us emotionally and throw even just a bit of it into doing the right thing for others – listening, lending a hand, being kind – because, all of us, all people, despite our differences – have faith or children or goals or a cause; all of us have that person, that place, or that future plan – that is carrying us through today. Reminding us to breathe. To live. And we all deserve a chance to see tomorrow.
Like our bodies refuse to give up on us.
Like our spirits refuse to give up on us.
We must refuse to give up on each other.
Because each other is all we have.
If we can unite – if we can work together, believe in each other, and lift each other up, if we can tell each other, “this won’t kill us; this cannot kill us” – even when we’re scared and weak and uncertain, maybe then, the whole world can take a deep, substantial, steadying gasp of air, and learn to breathe comfortably, too.
In. And out.