a time to breathe

I have remarkably advanced skills in over-extending myself. It takes virtually no effort for me to schedule back-to-back obligations, exceeding limits forgotten until I cross them – time and again. This was supposed to be a season of serial meetings, convenings, and conferences connected by relentless travel. At the outset of a fast-paced first quarter, I was steeling myself to muster the kind of fortitude required for the schedule I had built for myself. A more relaxed April was going to be my reward for navigating a too-full season. I was even planning a three-day silent retreat in late March to mark my transition from overdrive to a more sustainable pace. Instead, the breath and pause I had earmarked for April has come early. We just took down the complex spreadsheet my husband laminated so that we could hang an indestructible copy of my comings-and-goings over the calendar that hangs in the kitchen. With work-related travel suspended indefinitely, my habit of living fast and furiously has been disrupted. We no longer need the cheat sheet I was living by and I now find myself at home with just enough time to catch my breath.

It is not lost on me that the virus affording this privilege is devastating lives and livelihoods. No exhale on my end can cover the mounting costs born by others. My breath – however life-giving to me – will not revive the dead or the dying.

And still, this sense of time reclaimed returns me to the cyclical nature of so much learning. Mere days ago, I was pushing myself to the limits of my own capacities. As I ponder this unexpected reprieve from my own scheduling hubris, I am reminded that things we come by honestly are still ours for the reckoning, even during a global pandemic. This relentless drive of mine comes from somewhere; from ancestors who passed down a work ethic that was supposed to save us all – from ourselves, from one another, from the evil within and without. I know now that this inherited investment in the promise of more becomes the too-much that robs me of life itself. I will spend more than one season tempering the dangerous equation in which we become the sum of our most productive parts. Some lessons are made for the unlearning. Again.

It is this perpetual state of learning that softens my expectations. This softening is not a capitulation to lesser gods. Each pause nudges, gently, the places where my deep longing chafes against the inhumanities that ask for some to give all and others to give nothing. What will it take to honor the measure of my own – and others’ – flourishing? As I sit on the porch in the waning afternoon sun and feel the possibility of time recalibrated, I know that raising this question is part of my work. The other part involves something resembling resistance, something about less doing and more being that stops short of being more than.

In this unexpected reprieve from my own tendencies, I know one thing for certain: that our struggle to breathe collectively might hinge on some of us understanding the privilege of breath itself. May I know the measure of my own learning by what my calendar – and my community – looks like when the next global pandemic hits. May I not need the next global emergency as cover story for my own limits. For all those struggling to breathe deeply – if at all – may our learning not be your burden alone to bear.