inhale; exhale

“They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn.” – Bob Dylan

Mornings, moments, scrambling toward something, have marked the recent days. Waiting for a switch to flip, for clarity to emerge, literally, from darkness. But it wasn’t until I stepped onto my mat, on the precipice of the Winter Solstice, that the light finally came.

It came, of course, at just the right moment, after a sudden and unexpected dip into gloom and uncertainty. A toe in the water of foreboding, of feeling like maybe things won’t be okay after all. But then: inhale what you need, exhale what you want to give to those around you. Oh yes. It really is that simple.

inhale_exhale_black_sanskrit_style_postcard-r12de6b18885f4940ae9f126740ae838e_vgbaq_8byvr_512The greediness of self-care is essential, most especially in the grander context of raising another human being safely, gently, with love. It just takes SO MUCH to create the best possible world for the little people in our lives. With this one boy – joyful, passionate, curious, sometimes wild – I can feel drained, steamrolled, sucked dry, even, when the storm is perfect and the outlets for self-expression and care are scarce. It’s been a confusing road to come to the place of understanding that this family, shaped like this, this one boy, parked squarely in the center of our hearts, our whole life, is just the way it should be, that any other way would be entirely too much. I might break. And a broken mother is not what this boy needs.

So I have breathed that in, over and over- every time I see him playing and chasing among friends and schoolmates, almost all of who share their little worlds with brothers and sisters. It’s a wonder to me. I marvel at parents who can make this work. Sometimes, I feel judged, or out of step with something that I am supposed to understand. The world wants me to do this differently. But then I breathe in what I need.

What else, besides this close, small family, perfect with my curly-headed boys? An ocean of words, swirling around me, all the time. My own, those of others. Right now, I am inhaling Kate Atkinson’s magic so deeply. Like the Incredible Book Eating Boy, I wish I could sit down with a knife and fork and literally feast on “A God in Ruins.” Instead, I’m breathing in her language and story as fully as I can, just so thankful to know what it means to me, how it nurtures the part of me that feels like Teddy, her protagonist who is struggling to make meaning of his Life After War. His struggle feels in some essential way like my own, trying to live and make meaning after illness. What do we do with a future that we thought we might never have?

Also, running, literally inhaling the freedom it brings.  Starting to share it for the first time with friends, and share it again with loved ones, feels like a gift to those around me. Each stride has provided strength, focus, a certain elation that I can access even in the darkest moments.

And then, what to release back into the world? Days, weeks have gone by, mired in the clenched-up combativeness of parenting, when I’ve literally lost sight of who I am, where nothing seemed possible, where my heart felt frozen in disgruntled rage. That is not what I want to give to the world. That is not the kind of parent I want to be. What I want is to share something lighter, sweeter and more joyful.

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For reasons perhaps too numerous to identify, I’ve had to let go of certain ancient notions of how I might improve the world in some small way, of where I might “end up.” The civil rights litigator I imagined being at the dawn of law school; the author whose words reach into people’s hearts and shed some kind of meaningful light. These expressions of self may never come to be. But in a sweaty steam bath of inhales and exhales, of 108 salutes to the sun on the darkest day, the clarity came: that being the best version of who I am need not shake the earth in some grand, seismic way. Vibrations of simple goodness just may be enough.

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