If you’re reading this, it means you woke up this morning and found yourself blessed with another day. Congratulations! That, my friend, is a gift. Every breath is a small miracle. So small, we don’t even notice them. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you also survived COVID, a potentially deadly descent into having no more breaths. Isn’t it odd how such a key piece of our ability to exist goes so easily unnoticed?
Consider for a moment the many things that have the potential to take our breath away. Curiously, those are far more obvious than the simple fact that every breath we take is literally a gift. A miracle happening about 12 to 16 times for us every minute. Someone blessed enough to live until her 80th birthday will have taken over 672 million breaths in her lifetime. That’s a lot of miracles.
Recently, I’ve become a bit obsessed with moments, time, and the wasting of the breaths we’ve been given. Think about it for a moment but, please, don’t dwell on it for too long. In a life of millions of breaths, we squander many of them. My brother-in-law and I recently discussed some of these in terms of productivity, but that’s not really the lens on them that concerns me.
We certainly need to produce in this world. Our lives demand tremendous productivity from us in order to survive. But productivity is going to happen out of necessity. If it doesn’t, sacrifices are made in other areas: independence vs dependence, security vs. insecurity, comfort vs. struggle. We’ll produce when we want to, and often produce even when we don’t want to. Some production is life-giving and other productivity is about checking boxes – getting stuff done, or at least feeling like we’re getting stuff done.
Productivity is a measure but it’s really not the measure. Besides, few of us need a reminder of our need to get stuff done. We’re quite aware of how productive, or unproductive, we are, and there are thousands of posts, books, videos, consultants, and articles, readily available to help us get more productive.
I’m more interested in the quality of those breaths and the simple miracle that we get them. Of course, as miraculous our breaths are, their persistence and volume over time makes each one impossible for us to celebrate. Ah, but they lead us to so many moments. Moments that have the potential to take our breath away.
And now, a pause for gratitude. August is here. August of 2022. Not 2000, 2010, or 2021 but 2022. You are alive, enjoying breaths that you hardly notice, and miracles are happening all about you. And it’s likely that, like me, you waste many of them.
Remember, for purposes of this post, I’m not talking about productivity for purposes of efficiency or effectiveness. Our ability to get stuff done is a beautiful thing and worthy of some gratitude. Celebrate for a moment and move on. Let’s consider the miracles and what we do to hide, delay, deny, or even kill them.
For just a moment, let your mind wander over your preceding week. That’s about 161,000 breaths from your bank. How many moments took your breath away? Perhaps it was a regular week and breath-taking opportunities were at a minimum. We’ll return to that in a moment. How many arguments did you have? What about moments thinking about arguments? Did you spend any breaths worrying about something someone said? What about time spent thinking about what you think someone else may have been thinking? Did you spend any breaths on anger? Resentment? Jealousy? Fear?
Ok, sometimes fear is necessary. Let’s shift gears for a moment (perhaps 10-15 breaths). How many times did you see something beautiful this past week? I suppose that is a bit obscure. How about: how many times did you see something beautiful and recognize it as being beautiful? What about moments in which you were really thankful for someone or something, did you have any of those? Remember, they only count if you noticed them.
Let’s return to the things that did or didn’t take your breath away. For any that took your breath away, how did you feel in that moment? How long did it last? Did you see it for what it was while you were in it? If there were no such moments, consider your week for a few more breaths. Did you notice a full moon lighting up your backyard? Were there any children in your week? What did they do? Did anyone hug you or touch you tenderly? Did you have a win?
For me, I find it easy to look back over my week and feel acutely all of the miracle moments that I squandered. The wasted breaths in a conversation or argument. The lost opportunity to touch or smile or encourage. The kind remark I didn’t make or the one I received but failed to really notice. The beautiful little voice asking me for a cup of water or to read a book. Tell me again poppy. Like breaths, they all come and go so quickly and so quietly.
The reality is that none of us will fill the “unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run” every single time. We’ll aim for productivity and we’ll fall somewhere between pretty effective and terribly sluggish. But the miracles, oh, the miracles. What a shame to miss those. Six hundred and seventy two million breaths sure seems like a lot, but they are so very fleeting.
We won’t, we can’t, see every single miracle, every time. We won’t remember to be grateful for each breath nor is it likely we’ll feel the blessing of even a majority of our moments. However, we can pause every now and then to spend a few breaths feeling the joy of the many chances we get to have them taken away.