Roma

Spring                                                                             Recovery Moon

First, it’s not about gypsies. Roma is a neighborhood in Mexico City.

Second, it’s not a thriller, or a mystery, or a comedy (except perhaps of manners), or a drama. It’s not fantasy, anime, or horror. I would call it cinema verité, a slice of life, in this case a short period in the life of Cleo, an indigenous woman who serves as a maid to the deteriorating family of a physician. She and Adela, another maid, wake up the children, kiss them and love them, make meals, clean the house, and work from morning until night.

Cleo is affectionate, a para-mother, to the four children, three boys and a girl. They love her back and the relationship among them is strong enough that, despite not knowing how to swim, she wades into the Bay of Campeche to save Sofi from drowning as threatening waves break all around them.

The film is told with Cleo and her life as its center, and a good part of it covers the evolution of her pregnancy, the result of one afternoon with Fermín. Fermín’s full frontal nudity, while brandishing a staff in martial arts fashion, serves to highlight what I perceived as the strongly feminist theme. His is the only nudity in the film.

Cleo’s pregnancy ends in the birth of a dead girl. The physician moves away from his home, leaving his wife, her mother, the four kids, Cleo and Adela in the family house. After a drunken drive into the garage with the oversized, masculine body of a Ford Galaxy, the wife says to Cleo, “We’re all alone Cleo. We women are always alone.” Her mother is there, alone. Cleo and Adela are there alone.

Cleo tells Fermín that she’s late while they are at a movie. He says, “That’s good, yeah?” She looks a little bewildered, but nods. “I’m going to the bathroom.” He disappears. When she finds him much later, he’s moved back to a village and trains there. She asks him if he has a minute. He shouts at her, brandishes his staff, “It’s not mine. If you come back, I’ll beat your face in.”

Though the film consistently portrays the physician’s family, including his wife, as caring for Cleo, “We love you, Cleo, very much.” there is always the underlying dynamic of employer/employee. “Will you fire me?” Cleo asks when informing the wife of her pregnancy. “Of course not.” The story from Cleo’s point of view suggests several different times that her position could be precarious, even if the family does love her.

We don’t see films focused on servants. Especially not films that take a more or less neutral attitude toward servitude like Roma. Yes, we see the threat to Cleo, but we also see the families genuine affection for her, the children’s, too. She displays no anger at her life, nor does Adela. Her most negative emotions come after the birth of her dead girl. She sits and stares.

The black and white film, the setting in the early 1970’s, and the depiction of an infamous police riot against protesting college students give Roma the patina of a story from long ago, as if the participants were sitting around a campfire somewhere recounting that year that Cleo got pregnant. In that sense, and in its third person style, gives the viewer a distance from the events in the movie, like watching a newsreel.

This is a powerful, well-observed film. It drew me in to Cleo’s world, made me ache with her, want more for her, appreciate her love for the children, which, of course, drew a double line of irony under her unsuccessful pregnancy.

Yesterday.

Spring                                                                          Recovery Moon

A dress designed by Ruth and made by Kate

A dress designed by Ruth and made by Kate

The recovery moon has begun to wane, but not before both Kate and me have made significant gains. Kate’s weight is up and her spirits have gone up with it. My mucus glands seem to have gotten tired, weary of all their work over the last couple of months. Yeah. Still many miles to go for Kate, but she’s making good progress.

Whenever a Johnson sister comes to visit, the talk turns to fabrics or yarn or weaving. This family sews, knits, quilts, and, in Anne’s case, weaves. BJ and Kate had a pattern in hand yesterday. “Why does it say knit, then pearl here? What if you’re doing that on circular needles?” “Do you like sparkly yarn?” “I did.” (I don’t.)

Came downstairs yesterday after my workout (oof, again, but a bit better than Thursday) to violin music. BJ practicing is always a pleasure to hear. Warms up the house, helps it feel alive. Just like the dogs. Musicians, I realized, again, are athletes, always training. Muscle memory is important for them, too, as well as music theory. Correct technique, too. My personal trainer watches and corrects my technique, musicians often have to do that for themselves after a certain point in their development.

music2The program I posted for Shecky’s concert at Merkin Hall involves not one, but three Beethoven sonatas. BJ says this is unusual, most play only one. Complicated to learn and execute. He started practicing them the other day, so he has about two months to get ready. Memory, style, technique. He’s reading a Jan Swafford biography of Beethoven, too. BJ recommended Swafford’s work. so I bought his first, a biography of Charles Ives, a favorite composer of mine.

The snow has melted almost completely off the driveway. Colorado. The solar snow shovel. Cheap and easy.

Friend Tom Crane and Roxann are on Maui, got there yesterday. Maui is the best. That’s its county motto. Each island is a county. Maui is wonderful lots of beautiful beaches, great restaurants, Lahaina (which means merciless sun and was an old whaler’s resupply stop), Haleakala, the curvy road to Hana. Mama’s Fish House.

Kauai, taro fields near Hana Lei

Kauai, taro fields near Hana Lei

I prefer Kauai, more rural, less intense, but Maui’s a fine place, too. Tom and Roxann have a meal planned at Mama’s where Kate and I celebrated my birthday several times. Her continuing medical education events that took us to Hawai’i often corresponded with Valentine’s Day.

Though the snow has melted off the driveway (mostly) it did cover up the bare spots in the backyard. With temps in the teens the snow will hang for a bit. Not long though since rain and high 50’s are forecast for this week. Snow is not over here though. April is our second snowiest month. In 2017 we got four feet of snow! It came the two days prior to our arrival back from Singapore after our trip to Korea for Joe and SeoAh’s wedding.

Musicians

Spring                                                                              Recovery Moon

Rebekah_Johnson_-_fullPicked up sister-in-law BJ at DIA yesterday. She’s an experienced traveler with a single roll-on bag and bright blue, hard-shelled case which carries her violin. It goes everywhere with her, including in to Sushi Win for lunch. “Cold is not good for it. Changes in humidity.” She’s the concert master for the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, so the blue, hard-shelled case carries her means of earning a living.

We talked about the arts over lunch. Interestingly, her s.o. Schecky Ballentyne, a student of the cello great, Leonard Rose, and a teacher of the cello as well as an international soloist, thinks a renaissance of the arts gestates among millennials. A while back when he taught his students could count on getting jobs as professional musicians. More recently his students have gone on other careers instead. Medicine. Scholarship. Computer programming. But. They keep up the instrument, have chamber music evenings with other part time players, and keep their art alive. Schecky believes these folks will create an artistic renewal when they become more settled in their lives. May it be so.

music sasaki and ballentyneShecky and a pianist with whom he often works, Hiroko Sasaki, have a performance scheduled at the Merkin Hall in NYC. May 24. Here’s the info in case you’re in the Big Apple over that time:

In the 20 years spanned by the music in this evening’s performance, Beethoven revolutionized music and single-handedly created the modern cello sonata.  By juxtaposing works from each major period of his life, Ballantyne and Sasaki highlight this composer’s unique musical and spiritual development.  For an even more immersive experience, please join Emmy nominee George Marriner Maull, well-known for his PBS and radio specials about music, for a pre-concert lecture at 6:30 in the balcony lobby.

Artists

Scott Ballentyne, cello

Hiroko Sasaki, piano

Program

Pre-concert Lecture: The Music of Beethoven by George Maull at 6:30

BEETHOVEN  –  Sonata Op. 5 #2 in G minor (1796)
BEETHOVEN  –  Sonata Op. 69 in A Major (1807/1808)
BEETHOVEN  –  Sonata Op. 102  #2 in D Major (1815)

Another 5 inches plus of snow here over night. Temperatures cooled down after the overheated week we had. This is powder though so it was easy to shovel the deck. Still snowing and in the teens.

Sandy, our house cleaner, came yesterday. She cleaned the loft, especially the bathroom after the unseating and resealing of the toilet. Always nice to get this space cleaned, about every other time she comes.

Kate continues to gain weight, do her ot/pt which gives her more strength and stamina. The hi-resolution CT next Tuesday should complete the diagnostic work of this whole ordeal. It will identify or rule out any lung disease. Then we’ll know whether she can go ahead with the j-tube placement. If Gupta, the pulmonologist, gives her the ok, that could happen fairly quickly.

20190126_103753All three dogs love the snow. Rigel and Gertie both go into the drifts nose first, come up shaking their heads, then do it again. Rigel hunts the rabbits that live under the deck and the shed, but she’s never caught one here, as far as I know. Back in Andover, every once in a while. Kep likes to wander in the snow, his black and white body moving in and out of the drifts as he investigates. He’s usually the last one back inside. His genes, after all, hail from the Akita prefecture in Japan, famous for its mountains and snow.

First workout today here in my loft gym for almost two months. If it’s anything like Thursday, I’m gonna need some help to get back downstairs. My quads are still complaining from that session.

In the way of Colorado this snow will be gone by Monday. 44 that day. Right now though it’s beautiful, falling gently on the lodgepoles, the naked aspen, our solar panels. Traction law is in effect. If you have bad tires and cause an accident or obstruct traffic, a big fine. Spring and winter will alternate with each other, probably all through April, perhaps even into May. Heavy snows, then 50 degree + days. Normal for us.

That One Time

Spring                                                                             Recovery Moon

Abiogenesis: the original evolution of life or living organisms from inorganic or inanimate substances. Just learned this word today. It was in an article that debunked the likelihood of other intelligent, tool-using, space-faring intelligent beings. Unconvincing to me, but this word…

Think of it. It describes that moment (moments?) when the inanimate got a jump start. Began to move. Every living thing’s ancestor. (at least those of with this planetary home)

Maybe you knew it. New to me. Abiogenesis. Had to share.

Move

Spring                                                                         Recovery Moon

Home gym

Home gym

Ooff. Beware what you wish for. Got back to working out yesterday. Huffing and puffing. Resting between sets. My legs were rubbery when I left the gym and this morning when I got out of bed. Detrained. Starting back, even slow, was difficult. No other way to get there though. And, just two sets plus cardio. A ways to go. Glad to have begun, however.

This is an ancientrail that didn’t use to exist. Back when we were mostly farmers or laborers, back when we were still in the veldt hunting and gathering, exercise wasn’t necessary. It came with the day. Run down some game. Climb a tree for fruit. Hoe the field. Gather in the grain. Hitch up the oxen. It’s only since farming and manual labor diminished that we’ve been getting the modern, sitting disease. Now we live in cities, drive or otherwise ride to work, and find desks a more common habitat than the field. We are victims of our more brain less strain lifestyle.

This means we have to find time in a life occupied by other things, gathering money rather than tubers, for example, to move our bodies and stress our muscles. It seems unnatural, the treadmill or the bike, the weights, the bands, the various exercises, yet in fact it is exercising the body that is natural and our modern daily routine that is not.

Here in Colorado getting outside hiking, climbing, biking, camping, hunting, fishing are popular. Our spectacular natural amenities the mountains, the snow, fast flowing rivers and streams beckon, are visible even from downtown Denver. Yet 5280, a glossy magazine covering the Denver metro scene, had a recent issue devoted to work/life balance. Seems metro folk work more hours per week than most other cities in the U.S.

finishWhen you read the literature, it’s clear that exercise is not only beneficial, but necessary for good health, especially as we age. I didn’t start until my late 30’s and it took me a while to get regular at it. Now it feels weird to me if I don’t get in my workouts on a regular basis. The last two months were an anomaly and one I didn’t like.

Exercise not only benefits the body, but the mind as well. Yes, endorphins release if you go hard and that’s reinforcing, but for me, the real advantage is the knowledge that I’m caring for myself. If you do what you can, diet and exercise (and my diet is ok, barely), then what comes is part of the aging process.

The trick, at least for me, was staying with it long enough for exercise to become a habit, one that felt more normal than ignoring it. It wasn’t easy and I had long stretches where I could have quit. Glad I didn’t. Not sure what kept me at it. I’m a believer at age 72. When my personal trainer said I moved better than a lot of the 30 and 40 year olds she saw in the gym, I was surprised, but pleased. Worth it.

 

The Mountain Way

Spring                                                                                 Recovery Moon

Kate, BJ, Ruth, solar eclipse 2017 at BJs Idaho house

Kate, BJ, Ruth, solar eclipse 2017 at BJs Idaho house

Kate’s sister BJ comes tomorrow for the weekend. She and her s.o. Schecky were out here in September, a planned visit to see our house, but they came the day Kate went into the hospital. They took me to a Japanese restaurant for sushi the night Kate had her hemicolectomy. It was a kind thing to do. I needed the break. Look forward to seeing her.

Had lunch with Alan Rubin yesterday. He’s auditioning for a part in Cabaret, another Ovation West production. You might recall he was in “Funny Girl” which Kate and I saw last fall. He’s taken to retirement by becoming a performer. Taking voice lessons, learning music theory, and this year becoming President of the Ovation West board. He and I were teaching the religious school class until I had to quit due to too much stuff going on at home. A good friend.

John came by and fixed my john. Apparently I blew the seal plunging out a clog. Geez. Water under pressure is powerful. Just ask all those folks in Nebraska. Interesting article about the one guy who manages all the Army Corps of Engineers dams on the Missouri River. He chooses whether to let dams fail or send more water downstream to already flooded farms and towns. Another one the next day wrote about the 25 states under risk for extreme flooding as this winter’s cold begins to loosen, melt snow and ice. When a severe winter like this last one thaws, if it comes too soon, the water hits frozen land. No buffer in the land, just like flooding a parking lot.

Walking and Hiking in Bear Country   Your neighborhood is bear country, too!

Walking and Hiking in Bear Country Your neighborhood is bear country, too!

Up here getting a tradesperson out to the house, really tradesmen since I’ve not yet encountered a female plumber, electrician, handyman (though I’m sure they exist somewhere), often depends on a personal relationship. Herb, of H2O plumbing, ignored my phone message. He didn’t remember that I was the guy who lived in Andover when he lived in Nowthen. When I got him on the phone, he remembered and got a guy over here in two hours. Like living in a small town.

The mountain way. Had to take the garbage and recycling bins back inside the garage. The bears are awake. Bears can smell food, the Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources says, from five miles away. I still don’t let the dogs out at dawn or dusk because of mountain lion predation. All the critters are hungry as the snow melts, food’s been a scarce resource for a while now, just like every winter.

Toward Evergreen

Toward Evergreen

Another interesting part of the mountain way, driving up here. Roads in the mountains, except for I-70 are neither straight nor multiple lanes. Hwy 285, a divided four lane now past Conifer, devolves into a curvy up and down two lane (with the occasional passing lane) as it heads toward Bailey and Park County. The rest are two lane, no passing, winding. No sight lines beyond the next curve up and down.

It took a while to learn, but there is a code. Leave the person in front of you a healthy distance since deer or elk might be standing in the road around the next bend. Don’t go too fast or too slow. Stay alert. If somethings ahead, either wildlife or Jeffco sheriff’s deputies, blink your lights at oncoming traffic. This confused me at first since it was the signal you had left your lights on back in the old days before car lights turned off by themselves.

Two sorts of drivers violate this unspoken code. The first, most of us grant license, are tourists. We have two spots on Black Mountain Drive/Brook Forest Drive (same road), Upper and Lower Maxwell Creek, that draw crowds from the Denver area each nice day. There are also folks staying in Evergreen in one of the many cabins or motels who wander out of town for a drive in the mountains. Many of these drivers brake at every curve, even going uphill, which is silly since the mountain will brake for you if you let up on the gas.

Guanella Pass, 2015

Guanella Pass, 2015

The second type are residents who have to get down the mountain thirty seconds faster than you do. They’re the ones who’ll put you in danger. I haven’t seen it, but others write of people who pass them. Passing on these roads is like spinning a roulette wheel with your life and somebody else’s. Others will crowd up on your bumper. As if that changes the physical reality we both face. Flick their lights in your mirror. You know.

Mostly driving here is sedate since the roads don’t really offer a safe alternative. I like that since it gives me a chance to savor the rocks, the trees, the peaks and valleys while moving at a speed safe enough even if I encounter a bouncy young fawn or calf or a whole herd of elk.

 

 

 

 

This. That.

Spring                                                                         Recovery Moon

We hit 58 yesterday, predicted 60 today. Snow piles melting, but plenty of snow remains in our north facing backyard. I took a chance on the ice dams, hoping they’d disappear before any damage was done. Not my brightest move ever, but while I was sick  dealing with the company who would have had to clean them off  and while we were contemplating moving overwhelmed me, and I went into stasis on them. So far, it’s ok. Sometimes you get lucky.

Brief political note: we have a President who’s proud he wasn’t found smoking gun guilty of collusion with a foreign power. Any other president, ever, would have been sunk by the very implication of a treasonous act. How he can be so puffed up about this escapes me. Life in Trumpworld is life down the rabbit hole. The Red King says off with his head!

After my third cancellation due to illness I’m going in Thursday for my new workout. My o2 sats have been low, but not dangerous, then middling, but ok. I think working out over the last four years has kept them in safe territory and I’d like to put that concern to rest. I’ll check them over the next month or so as I return to a more active life. BTW: Kate says my reasoning about a 93% sat in a 75% reduced o2 environment is not sound. “It’s not a linear process,” she says. Makes sense. Still, life in thin air has an effect and not a positive one on 02 saturation.

Just back from my monthly THC run to Bailey’s Happy Camper. Great views of the continental divide, many peaks covered in snow. Their inventory is always in flux and though we prefer Love’s Oven, I had to settle for a couple of brands I don’t know, Green Hornet and Wanna. It still feels a little strange to get in the car to go buy marijuana. No baggies on street corners. No phone calls to your buddy’s dealer. Just walk in, say I’d like this and this and some of that. Pay. Walk out.

Lunch with Alan today at the Lakeshore Cafe in Evergreen. Looking forward to it.

 

 

She Does a Slow Reveal

Spring                                                             Recovery Moon

Back Yard

Back Yard

Each night Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, and other stars of the northern sky orbit around Sirius, the pole star, doing their dance through and just above the lodgepole pines visible outside our bedroom window. Cassiopeia, like a shy maiden, appears right now behind a clump of lodgepoles early in the night, but slowly reveals herself, her trademark distorted W shape gradually appearing in full.

This morning the waning Recovery Moon and Jupiter sat next to each other, the moon with a pale wet halo, both over Black Mountain. This is wild country here. We saw a fox two mornings ago, a healthy red fox with a bushy tail held erect, running down Black Mountain Drive with either a critter or a kit in its mouth.

We’ll be in the 60’s this week, then more rain or snow over the weekend. When I picked up a prescription at King Sooper’s the other day, the pharmacy tech looked out the window and said, “Oh, god. It’s snowing, isn’t it?” It was. A bright blue sky and round shots of graupel struck the grocery store parking lot behind me. “I love snow, but I’m so tired of it.” “Oh, it’ll quit snowing eventually.” “Yeah,” she laughed, “in August.”

When sick, getting healthy is the most important thing on the docket. When well, all those pesky things you ignored take the top spot. Like that damned dead bolt. It sticks. And by stick I mean won’t move when we try to release it. This has taken a while to get bad. I could use a small pliers and a rubber piece (for traction) to open it for a while. Now that doesn’t work. Arthritic fingers and thumbs make these simple tasks go from difficult to impossible. Then, the toilet in the loft has developed an unpleasant habit of leaking from its seal to the floor or one of the bolts holding it down. Unusable in that state. Minor things, yes, but beyond the reach of an illness focused, snot for brains me. On them today.

Kate and Jackie

Kate and Jackie

Don’t remember whether I said it here or not, but Kate’s up to 85 pounds! Wow. I made an arbitrary number, 90 pounds, as the signal that the mess from Kate’s bleed would be officially over. She’s getting there. Almost exactly six months later. What an ordeal for her.

Rigel has developed a habit that will force a change in my behavior. We’ve taken to leaving certain items on the counter like bread, chips, apples and to using a small wire container in the sink as an alternative to a wastebasket. We put a plastic grocery bag over it, throw trash in it, then tie it up and throw it in the trash compactor. SeoAh’s idea and a handy one. Except. Rigel. She smells stuff she wants and uses her size to reach up and get it. Result. Mess. In three rooms yesterday. Gotta get a bread box and clear out space for the other items in the cupboard above the counter. A rejiggering of storage is necessary. Dogs.

Kate and I missed our hair cuts last month due to pneumonia. We’re both a bit shaggy and look forward to seeing Jackie today.

Ta for now.

 

 

 

What Will I Do?

Spring                                                                              Recovery Moon

dreamsGo now, the illness has ended. Feeling 95%. Still something in my lungs, not much. So seven weeks after the molasses filled drive back from Denver, I feel able. Still got workouts and stamina to increase, but I enjoy that. Imagine me doing a little dance on the balcony of the loft, a dance of thanksgiving for a strong constitution and a return to the unremarkable state of health.

What’s next? Call a plumber to fix the toilet leaking from its seal to the floor. Get our hair done. An appointment for teeth cleaning. Mail the taxes. Send Mary the letter confirming her part ownership of that oil well in Canadian County, Oklahoma. Finally get to my trainer for a new workout. Follow up on that PSA increase. Kate’s hi-res ct and visit to the pulmonologist. Get back to regular cooking. You know, stuff. Stuff that we do when we’re not occluded by an internal war between our immune system and some inner space invader.

I also have a lunch with Alan Rubin on Wednesday. Slowly getting back to some contact with CBE. It’s been a long while, but I miss those folks. I was still besnotted during the chicken cook soup cook off and not fully there.

If you want, you can insert a youtube video of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” here.

satireRemember the Producers? Zero Mostel? In it was the classic hit, “It’s Springtime for Hitler”. Well, it’s springtime in the Rockies and all of Colorado. Here’s another pirouette for great comedies and a plié with arm extended for the beauty of Black Mountain.

Not to go too far with this but there is a certain element of resurrection here. I used the word occluded, another word could have been buried. During a long and severe illness we turn in on our selves, our world becomes a primal struggle over which we have little if any external control. By primal I mean just that, a fight waged between cellular creatures so small we cannot see them, entities that have more in common with that first molecule that wiggled in the primordial soup than they do with us. During this conflict the body focuses on the struggle, not on errands, to do lists, future dreams, present possibilities. We become buried by the constant back and forth of immune system versus virus, immune system versus bacteria.

Now, sometimes, but only once, our body doesn’t win. That’s true burial or cremation, or going green into the ground, whatever carcass disposal mode suits you or your survivors. However, most of the time we emerge, as if in a Hammer film, from our undead state to once again walk among the tribe of the still living.

abyssAnd, yes, in that state now, I feel resurrected, reborn, renewed. A little shaky perhaps but that fits such a state doesn’t it? What’s next? Not in the quotidian sense I mentioned above, but what’s next in the sense of  “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver was the poet of our intimate relationship with mother earth. She listened, saw, felt what it meant to be embodied, to be embodied in this amazing natural state, this gift, this once in a lifetime reality that we are.

This one, my wild and precious life, my one wild and precious life, has been returned to me, or at least that’s how it feels. What, as the city planners say, is its highest and best use? I’ve had ideas before, but this is a chance to consider what that means now: 72, mortality signals falling like rain, yet invigorated and experienced, befriended and befriending, not alone, well read, ready. What will I do?

Ruach. Breath. Wind. Spirit.

Spring                                                                  Recovery Moon

breath ruachHead. Mostly clear. Lungs. Mostly clear. I’m beginning to feel the illness bidding me goodbye. So long, it was good to know ya. Nah, it wasn’t. And don’t come back, please.

Kate continues to show steady, if incremental, gains. She smiles more, laughs more. Until, that is, she opened the letter from Swedish Hospital advising us that our balance with them was $25,000. Oooff. Our insurance provider has not, for some reason, paid them. I get to chase that down today. Being sick in America. If the illness doesn’t get you, the debt collector will.

If we didn’t have resources, didn’t have enough education and chutzpah to front the insurance company about this, we might end up stuck with the bill. Kate’s experience since September has been long, invasive, and expensive. Without insurance we’d be eating away at our IRA. I don’t think this should be too hard to clear up; but the ominous nature of a letter like that creates an unpleasant frisson. To say the least.

I’m debating going to see my doc about o2 sats. They’re below normal, though not in a dangerous range. The high 80’s a good deal of the time. Normal is above 95, though above 90 nobody worries. Since we’ve gotten here, my sats have been around 90 most of the time. As Tom pointed out, we’ve lost 75% of our available oxygen just by being at 8,800 feet. That would make a normal reading 93 if I’m doing my math and physiology right.

breath in outI really don’t want to confuse Kate’s journey right now, especially since we see the same doc, so I may wait a bit, be sure the flight of respiratory illness I sampled over the last two months has actually ended. In time I would like to know if anything in my lungs compromises my breathing. It’s certainly possible. I smoked for 13 years. Not proud of it, but I did. I also worked in a couple of high particulate matter jobs in my younger days, cutting rags at a paper mill and moving completed asbestos ceiling tiles to pallets. And, Dad had severe asthma, using an inhaler virtually his whole life.

Ruach. The Hebrew word for breath, wind, and for spirit. The Greek word is pneuma. God breathed ruach into the lungs of Adam and he lived. Since the traditional test for death was holding a mirror or a hand up to the nostrils, no moisture on the mirror, no felt breath, it’s not a stretch to equate breath and breathing with life. No breath, no life. Many traditions, especially Hindu and Buddhist, have breathing related practices. So do the Sufi as my friend Debra Cope has taught me.

breath dive reflexWhat impedes breathing, impedes life itself. Impedes the spirit of all life that dwells within us. Like health breathing is unremarkable to most of us until its ease experiences an interruption. Water boarding, or extreme interrogation (not torture as our CIA likes to say), is horrific because it emulates drowning. Our body has reflexes built in, the diving reflex, for example, that protect us in the case of sudden immersion in water. This means that our DNA carries a history of dangers to our breathing.

The pulmonologist treats matters related to breathing. But the pulmonologist, no matter how skilled and learned, deals with the physical challenges to breathing, not the spiritual implications. No, that is up to us and our own way of understanding the body/mind/spirit links.

Breath jacob-wrestling-with-the-angelA breathing issue is not, then, solely the province of pulmonology. It is also the province of theology broadly understood. Theology, for me, is the way you identify, organize, and deal with matters of ultimate importance. Life itself is, of course, a matter of ultimate importance to an individual; therefore, life and how it is for us at any particular point is a directly theological matter. Breath, the spirit of life that fills our lungs, provides our cells with oxygen so that they can carry out the physiological functions that are life in the body, is also of ultimate importance.

Here’s a website devoted to breath meditation.* Note in the second sentence that prana, a Sanskrit word, means both breath and life. No breath. No life.

My journey right now forces me to investigate my breathing at both a physiological and a theological level. It’s all o.k., too. None of us get leave this ancientrail alive. Something takes our breath away. That something shows the fragile nature of even the most master of the universe sort of person. Right now I’m going to attend to my breathing, my o2 sats, the spirit and life they make possible within me. An ancientrail of the third phase, no doubt.

 

*Breath is the universal factor of life. We are born the first time we inspire, and we die the last time we expire. Breath is life itself. In Sanskrit the same word–prana–means both breath and life.

All that lives, breathes–even plants and the bacteria that make bread rise. The process of breath is identical in all, consisting of inhalation and exhalation. It is the most immaterial factor of our existence, being a link-manifestation of the mind/spirit that dwells in all. For this reason, the breath is the natural and logical basis for meditation, the attempt to “enter into life.” The breath is the key to the cultivation of pure consciousness.