I’m in plank position, toes flexed, torso rotated open, arm reaching for the sky when I hear her.
“Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe,” the trainer whispers.
I haven’t forgotten.
I’m holding my breath on purpose. I’ve been to enough pre-dawn punishing gym sessions to know that breathing makes it worse.
Breathing removes resistance. It forces my body to settle into the excruciating pain of a position that is totally unnatural and wildly uncomfortable.
Breathing brings me into the present moment; it allows no distraction. I can’t avoid the heavy sensation of my full body weight balancing on one hand or the tension packed into my post-three-pregnancies midsection. Breathing makes the time crawl.
I held my breath as he sobbed last night.
Deep, wracking sobs I haven’t heard from him in years. The kind of sobbing only interrupted by coughing fits and gasping for air and stuttering, starts again. He’s trapped, that child of mine. Trapped in a spot between his values and other’s expectations.
It’s not a simple problem. It’s middle school, after all.
He’s not handling his half of it well: digging in and avoiding and minimizing when he’s confronted. He’s laughing it off for fear of what others might think if he starts to cry.
It tumbles out of him: the whispered teasing, the fear that everyone is watching, the frustrating prison of wanting to do something but fearing what might happen if he speaks his truth out loud.
I’m holding my breath, looking for a solution. Looking for the conversation that does seem possible, the bearable compromise between his values and the expectations of his classmates, the easy way to fix this.
I want to fix this.
I’m holding my breath so I don’t feel his pain. So I am not paralyzed by the bewildering paradox he’s facing: find a happy medium between your personal values and social expectations. I am holding my breath so I’m not overwhelmed by the courage of this stubborn kid at thirteen, nestled in the crook of my arm begging me to find him a way out of this.
I’m holding my breath so I don’t feel my pain. The pain of wanting to help this miracle of a kid and also wanting him to learn how to solve his own problems. The pain of the balancing act between doing and teaching, acting and holding space.
I’m holding my breath so I can hold it together long enough to calm him and tuck him in and check his sister’s homework and tell his brother to get off the phone. I’m holding my breath as I rub his back until his breath finally deepens and slows and I can leave his room.
I’ve held my breath each and every time this world shocks and disappoints me. Each time I wonder how the Earth is big enough to hold all of this pain and anger and loss. When the news seems too impossible to be true, when I can’t read the headlines for fear of being immobilized by the pain summarized succinctly in Times New Roman 24 point font, I hold my breath.
Holding my breath means it won’t be this way forever. Waiting to exhale means acknowledging a time in the future where the air will escape my aching lungs. When it will be over, better, different. Sometimes, holding my breath is an act of defiant of hope.
This will pass. This won’t be forever. This isn’t real.
She nudges me gently.
“Still not breathing,” she chides.
I give in. I exhale and fill my lungs again, and feel the ache of the present. My toes cramping as the seconds tick by. Shoulder shaking, eyes blurring, I let it go. I breathe.
It’s not until I am driving home and see the moon hanging low in the pink early morning sky that I start to cry.