I find myself breathless today. My lungs are still recovering from a vicious cold, and every half-hour, I am doubled over as violent coughs that shake my ribcage expel the remnants of this viral infection from my body.
And yet, in spite of it all, I feel more alive than ever.
I take my lungs and my throat for granted, poor things. I always assume that when I wake up, and go about my day, that I can sing and yell and scream if I choose. I always assume that I will be able to run for the bus without my chest feeling tight.
My singing voice is nonexistent, my speaking voice raspy and hoarse. My energy is sapped. And yet, my body is currently fulfilling its destiny, doing its violent work of healing with the determination of troops at war. It is an exquisite piece of machinery.
I am grateful for my breathlessness, because I know it is transitory: and I know we are not all so lucky.
Two years ago today, a beautifully inspiring young woman named Eva Markvoort passed away when her breath ran out. Eva suffered from a genetic disease called cystic fibrosis. Although Eva successfully underwent a double lung transplant in 2007, she suffered from transplant rejection, and she died before she was able to receive another set of lungs. I think of Eva often, not only because her compelling journey and her brilliant spirit were so beautifully captured in Philip Lyall and Nimisha Mukerji’s 2009 documentary 65_RedRoses, but because she made me so exquisitely aware of that simple, unconscious act – breathing – which I have, and still do, take so brutally for granted.
The practice of mindfulness, which I learned from Zen Buddhism, places highest emphasis on the breath. In, out. In, out. The flow of air as it passes through our nostrils and rushes into our throats, the rise and the fall of our chests, or our torsos, as we breathe deeply into our diaphragms. Breath is the comfort and the security that we have immediate access to, the source that we can attend to in our moments of despair as in our moments of joy. It is not a matter to be taken lightly.
After I saw Eva’s documentary, I realized that my therapists weren’t kidding when they told me that there is great power in the breath: it is life itself. It is a gift. It is one which we who are so lucky to live with unimpeded lungs should savour each day, and in each moment.
So, though I am breathless today, though I am coughing and inclined, if only a little, to feel rather sorry for myself, I am truly filled with such gratitude for my little lungs, these powerful organs of life.
I regret not writing to Eva – I left it too late – but I am infinitely grateful to her for giving me a massive reality check, and for reminding me (especially on a day like today) that I am so, so, lucky to be able to just breathe.
For more information on Eva’s remarkable life, visit: http://www.65redroses.com
To become an organ donor in British Columbia (if you aren’t already), go to: https://transplant.bc.ca/OnlineReg/bcts.asp