On Sunday night I woke up in a panic, with a thick smell of smoke enveloping me. I jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen to make sure nothing was on fire, and checked for any potential gas leaks. As I checked the news and watched as images of towns north of us engulfed in flames, I flashed back to a cold, December morning, watching flames envelop my house against the grey winter skies. We watched for a long time, until all we could see were the charred outlines of a once loved building.
I know what it’s like to watch your home go up in flames. To see a vessel that held life go from a vibrant stand to a pile of ashes. To start over with what you were able to carry out and to begin again, again.
We try to tell ourselves during hard times to breathe deep. To feel the legs beneath us to find ground to stand firm on.
But these are moments when we can’t breathe deeply. We open our mouths and the air chokes us, trying to kill us through the very thing that is meant to give us life. And we like to use the term apocalyptic often, but many of us have died over and over again, searching for a place where we can breathe freely in a world that should have the fresh air to support us, and hope to be reborn into a new world, one in which our starting state is not death.
Sharon Salzberg said, “By learning to accept and even embrace the inevitable sorrows of life, we can experience a more enduring sense of happiness.” James Baldwin wrote of the depth of the sorrow of the blues that allows black people to feel a wider, deeper spread of emotions. Somewhere in the midst of fires and soot that coats the body, we are forged anew. We stoop down and pick up the leftover pieces to rebuild, gluing our hopes back together. We create our own map to that next world where each breath is a treasured gift we drink in deeply.