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January 12, 2012: Just Breathe Normally

I’m now reading Peggy Shumaker’s memoir, Just Breathe Normally. I had no idea that this was about her being in a near fatal bicycle accident. She takes an interesting narrative stance—providing brief vignettes about her past, which she intersperses between accounts of her accident, time in the hospital, and recovery. It’s a very lyrical book—only a poet could pull this one off.

The title is Just Breathe Normally. It’s a metaphor for her life. Peggy, midway through the book, writes “Ever notice that when you get that advice, Just breathe normally,” you can never do it? When you’re handed a six-foot rosy boa,


when a tarantula tangles his arm hair in yours, when you sneak up with a Dixie Cup to catch a scorpion, when you’re maintaining in front of your friend’s parents, when before surgery you’re counting backwards from one hundred, when for the first time you fit a snorkel between your teeth and put your mask into water, when the dog they said doesn’t bite clearly intends to, when you tell that necessary lie, when your scuba instructor tells you to take the giant stride into two hundred feet of ocean, when they slide you tight into the MRI tube, when you stand to give your speech, when yellow cups of oxygen fall from the plane’s ceiling, when the respiratory therapist clips together your nostrils, when the dentist packs your mouth with cotton logs, when you get the news you’ve been waiting for, when you get the news you’ve been dreading, when you stand up before God and everybody to pledge your love to your mate, just breathe normally.”

I just noticed that the above is a complete sentence. It’s like the writer has taken a deep breath, and is exhaling.

Many of the above examples ring true for me. And, like anyone else reading the above passage, I can think of dozens of other instances when it’s near-impossible to breathe normally. Every day, in fact, something comes up that quickens my pulse, and takes my breath away. And today was no exception. I’d just finished riding Raudi, who did really well. And yes, I often focused on the breath, as we worked on maintaining her trot.

I next tacked up Siggi and Signy. Siggi was feeling good, and I got him to move out. He went at a fairly fast clip up the hill on Samovar, slowed down, and then again picked up the pace. Then we all heard it—the sound of the road grader on the lower road. Siggi and Signy turned their heads in the rumbling machine’s directions. I began breathing, focusing on using my stomach muscles, and drawing air deep down into my lungs. I also sat deep in my seat. I had this sense that we could beat the grader. And if we couldn’t, we could at least make it to Jim’s, where we could then seek refuge in his driveway. We made it there, and I pointed Siggi in the direction of Idiot Boy’s place, which was directly around the corner from Jim’s. Siggi obliged. At this point, I presumed that we were nearly home free, for I did not hear the grader on the upper road.

We turned onto Oceanview, and I hopped off Siggi. I gave him and Signy a treat. I then saw Pete, who was running in our direction. We met up near our gate—he said that he’d come down to the driveway’s edge as the grader was going by—by then he could see Siggi, Signy and me turning onto Samovar.

I know, as I know in most instances, that being attuned to my breath helps with the sticky spots, by putting me in the present. And as I’ve discovered, the present is a safe and peaceful place. There are times when if I didn’t breath, that I suspect that I’d be paralyzed with fear. This could have been one of them.

It would be to everyone’s benefit to be taught the importance of breathing slowly and deeply when in a jam. I doubt that drug companies would work to promote this idea for then there would be less of a call for anti-anxiety medications.

Next: 38. 1/13/12: Shoveling Out