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Breath We Never Knew

Is the Earth resetting herself to make us better? My prayer-litany for the Planet.

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I never knew the tree across the street was shaped like a banana.

I never knew redwoods in forests could speak! Creaking and crackling in the quiet woods, telling us something.

I never knew the elderly widow, 

98 years old,

sitting on her porch,

a neighbor who rarely speaks,

has such a pretty smile, 

that her hair is whiter than clouds, 

that she never has a visitor.

I never knew the color of skies illuminated so many hues and holidays: 

Valentine’s Day reds,

July fourth patriotic blues, 

Christmas tree greens, 

that rainbows never really disappear.

I truly never saw the bright, bright sun, 

how it kisses the oceans in the early dawns,

caressing us awake, 

regardless of our infractions.

It never occurred that the planet turns

and spins,

always on cue,

offering us daily glimpses into the mysteries of eternity and infinity,

in spite of how we treat her.

I never heard birds sing so many different songs,

or even knew they could,

or saw the baby swans tucked between their parents’ protective wings,

floating on the glistening still pond,

simply existing. 

Were they always there?

I never noticed that when birds fly, it looks like they are celebrating.

I never noticed how the light of dusk radiates off my dog’s brown fur at 5:25pm.

I never noticed 5:25pm.

I never knew how brown his fur was, with streaks of gold on his thighs.

Did he always love shoes so much? 

New shoes, old shoes, muddy or clean, 

and I wondered if he was a shoemaker in another life.

I never knew stillness,

sustained and contained by nothing but infinite bottomlessness,

a groundlessness that chills flesh,

drops the body’s temperature to ice,

races the beating heart into 3am panic:

will we ever have jobs again?

will our dear ones go hungry?

When will this end?

The darkness and the dead cannot hurt us.

Uncertainty the new demon:

how utterly terrifying, 

how tremendously freeing.

Have you ever grieved so many deaths

of so many strangers

all at once?

Does it feel like you knew every one of them?

That we are them:

the living and the dead.

We are the husband in New York City,

who sat for five hours

in a one-room studio

waiting for paramedics,

after his wife took her last breath.

We are the grandmothers in nursing homes

staring at doors that never open,

no one coming to see us,

and we are the nurse’s aides holding their hands.

I never knew how much the earth needed to breathe,

and how we did, too. 

Did deep breaths and raindrops always taste so delicious?

I never knew

that breath itself,

the moment it gives,

the moment it takes,

the present,

is all we have,

that the Buddhists and Bodhisattvas were right all along.

Did you ever think the planet would reset herself without warning?

Did we realize Mother Earth is more powerful and savvy

than any dictator or oligarch?

Smarter than any political strategist, 

the ultimate policymaker with the final say,

she is the sole international peacekeeper.

She is the United Nations.

The only one true ruler,

she will unite nations

and destroy their walls in minutes.

She is the only healer of herself. 

Did you know she laughed gently, without malice,

at climate accords

and the leaders who defied them?

She quietly spoke, then roared,  

offering fair warnings

of fires and floods,

submerged villages in water, 

set towns ablaze,

forests afire,

her beckoning calls ignored. 

Now, perhaps exhausted by human indifference,

she overruled us,

hijacked our hubris,

slowed down our self-grasping ways.

She dispensed quieter, more confounding tactics: 

with molecules that humbled dictators, 

brought presidents to the feet of Jesus, 

landed jet planes,

sealed the airspace,

and cleared her skies,

while lions in South Africa

sprawl out in peaceful slumber on highways,

dolphins dance in the clear blue seas,

and unhunted deer prance freely in their homelands.

She shifted us, too,

transformed us in a matter of days

by force,

perhaps by our own making,

our karma ripening

from ordinary time,

ordinary daily life,

into a different realm, 

another circle,

a chasm somewhere between heaven

or more likely hell.

We are standing now,

waiting,

in the in-between:

between the terrifying, mystifying, tender rawness

of the unknowable,

and the liberation of our collective hearts,

waiting to be set free

from a purgatory of sorts,

or maybe in the Bardo

or the Barzakh.

Where only the prayers

of the noble and the selfless,

of the empaths and the helpers,

those who want better,

know better,

aspire for better,

can set us free again:

free us to free one other,

to give life to the breathless,

to liberate the enslaved,

house the homeless,

offer childhoods to children,

equity to inequity,

wholeness to the broken hearted.

Perhaps the planet, too, will set us free,

Mother Earth is praying for us,

rooting for the human species,

to save ourselves,

and her, too.

Perhaps she will reset and release us

back again,

into the living place.

It is our choice how we decide to return.

Who do we want to become?

We never knew,

we were all ensnared

by illusions of past and future, 

cycling

toward nothingness,

the future finite,

the past a dream long awoken.

It is only we now,

no longer severed,

We are the living and the dead.

We are no longer nations,

no longer cities.

no longer consumers,

no longer killers in classrooms.

No one is far away, though we are all completely alone.

What is left in the absence of distance?

8,432 miles between the burnt paws of kangaroos 

in the smoked ash of the Australian outback

and the orphaned children of Damascus;

5,273 miles between the inferno of the Amazon 

and the flooded streets of Jakarta;

66 feet between my window and the widow’s doorstep.

What separates us now?

There are no miles between us anymore,

only breath:

our wish for it,

our prayer for all to have it,

our collective reliance on it,

only breath between the miles.

What can we do now,

but breathe in for the breathless

and out for the bereaved?

With each breath in, I take in your lonely dying.

With each breath out, I send you friendship and light.

As the 4,583 miles between grieving Syrian mothers

and weeping elephants in Botswana continue to evaporate,

with each breath in, I take in your terror of joblessness.

With each breath out, I send you stability,

and the miles between refugee camps in Lesbos

and the slums of Niger continue to dissipate.

We breathe in your fear,

which is also our fear.

If this is the only wish we ever have for others,

our one truly selfless act,

our lives may not have been wasted.

Let’s breathe in for all and out for all.

I see the widow again.

She is 98.

Her smile is pretty.

Do you wonder what she wonders,

on the edge of life,

heading toward the in-between,

when each hour of breath is a winning lottery ticket.

We are all 98 years old now.

We can all see the sun now.

We can all notice baby swans comforted by their peaceful parents. 

Can we just let them be?

We can all notice the aging widow’s pretty smile, 

feel the refugees’ confusion, 

understand the humiliation of the subjugated,

the horror of the starving, 

know poverty’s violent assault on the cells and the psyche.

We are all running now,

running to cross borders

that are no longer borders

with babies on our backs.

Maybe soon we can be the widow’s first visitor

and listen to the wise sermons of trees.

Ask their advice 

and do as they say:

see holidays in the skies, 

understand the borrowed time of the aged, 

observe the evening sun radiating off our dogs’ wide eyes.

Maybe this pestilence can unleash our hearts,

allow them to swell for the suffering of all, 

to swell and swell until they break,

then explode into a new world order,

the highest collective consciousness.

Where empathy,

equality,

compassion,

and true respect for Mother Earth and her species

finally rules the day. 

What is that sound?

Let’s listen.

It is the planet’s deep inhale.

Let’s breathe along with her,

giving her renewed hope.

Let’s breathe for the ones who cannot.

I breathe in your terror,

which is also my terror.

I breath out peace for you,

which is also my peace.

Now,

let’s get on our knees, 

grasp each other’s hands, 

bow down to this planet,

look toward the bright, bright sun

and beg for forgiveness.

Ask migrants for mercy,

parent the orphaned,

stop Syrian bombs from dropping,

and understand this,

the only thing I truly believe:

that the miles between us is merely breath.

Let’s keep breathing,

For the living.

For the dying.

Let’s not waste this noble calling,

this clear universal invitation,

a demand, of sorts,

from Mother Earth, 

from God, 

from Buddha, 

from Muhammad, 

from the cosmos and a thousand suns,

from the human heart’s deep ache for oneness and love.

We can learn to know now

that we knew nothing then.

Maybe now we do.

Maybe now we can.

Maybe now we will.

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