A year ago, this word would have meant something else to me entirely.
I don’t know that a year has passed where we have considered more the idea of taking a breath; I don’t know that I have ever thought more about the air passing in and out of my lungs.
A year ago the only face masks that I owned were the remnants of a box purchased when I came down with bronchitis the week of Danny’s birthday the year before (and I didn’t want to pass on my germs). I remember carving the complicated Mario fruit structures in a mask and gloves and thinking “wow, this is miserable. I’m glad I don’t have to do this for very long.”
What a humbling year.
As breathing is a reflex that is controlled by the brainstem, if you have never had cause to examine it, you probably don’t think too much about it. We can discipline our lungs like athletes or performers. We can supplement our oxygen when we are ill. We talk metaphorically about something “taking our breath away” to emphasize it’s significance but if you have ever reached for a breath you couldn’t quite grasp, you know there isn’t a lot of poetry in that reality.
Because truly, to run out of air is to perish.
I think this is why hope is compared to air so often. I have heard it said that hope is to the soul what air is to the lungs, and I think that is probably pretty accurate. The soul is designed for hope; our hearts and minds cling to it in order to overcome what is treacherous in our lives.
Gasping for hope is a suffocation of its own.
In the last year I have heard a lot of people complain that they can’t breathe while wearing the face coverings required to do most activities in this pandemic season. It isn’t my favorite accessory by any means, but I find that I do ok getting enough air so long as I don’t exert myself too much. I breathe just fine, but I have trouble trying to catch my breath. It is too much at once and often when I meet the resistance on the inhale, I panic; I end up needing to find a place where I can be alone to lower my mask and get a few deep breaths to recover.
If I am to consider hope the same way, then I need to be very mindful of the hope I exhale. I have to pace myself, knowing that while the end is in sight, the race is still being run.
And should I find that I have overexerted myself, in order to rescue my soul, I need to find a place where I can think clearly and pray earnestly, lower my doubts and fears, and hope courageously to begin to recover.