(Editors Note: This appeared originally as a blog in Skirt Charleston magazine)
The symbol for oxygen is O2.
I like to think of it as “Oh, to…” as in, “Oh, to be able to stop and take a breath!”
It sounds ridiculous to forget to breathe. You don’t have to think about it. Breathing is just natural.
But sometimes, I need to remind myself.
There was always a moment, when I got home from work, that my daughter would want to launch into the rapid-fire recap of her day. From an early age, I taught her…just wait.
Let Mama breathe.
Give Mama that bubble of time, just five or maybe 10 minutes, when I could shuck the stress from the day like an ugly snakeskin. Silence. Breathe. Let my chest rise as I pull in air. Loudly exhale out, letting the shoulders sink.
And then, the “How was your day” could start.
This is the reason you put on your own oxygen mask before turning to your child in the next airplane seat. Because you have to be able to breathe if you want to have anything at all to give someone who depends on you.
The day could be full of the slings and arrows of nasty clients, jealous coworkers, kamikaze commuters. And the nights could be off-the-rails races to fit in dinner, bath, storytime, dogwalking, meaningful conversation, and the occasional – okay, more than occasional – glass of wine.
But for just a few minutes, I could breathe. In. Out.
Later in life, I attended a challenge course. We had to climb a 30-foot telephone pole, stand atop a platform at the top that was no bigger than a personal pan pizza, and then leap into space.
Of course, the whole time, we were harnessed in, safety lines monitored by the seasoned challenge leaders.
But it didn’t feel safe. Once you crested the telephone pole, there was no place to put your hands. You had to stand, 30 feet up and balance on a pole that – how did I not notice this before? – swayed ever so slightly in the wind.
From below, came encouragement from the rest of the class.
“You can do it!”
And then, the leader, well-versed in the sudden cowardice and panic I felt: “Breathe, Helen! Slow breaths, now! Just breathe.”
Just breathe. In. Out.
Not quite bravery as I sucked air like a starving man, but at least the panic receded.
I looked around at the beautiful sage-green mountains, laid out before me. I pushed down on my trembling thighs and straightened from the frightened crouch. Slowly, but I straightened until I was standing.
And I breathed. In. Out.
Oh, yeah. Now I remember. Breathe.