Knot Pining: Being mindful of every breath
April 22, 2022
There’s been a truly serviceable public service announcement on area radio stations since the pandemic started. I say that because Kevin Love, the former Minnesota Timberwolves player, is speaking about anxieties in troubled times and turning to mindfulness. Then he guides a small exercise, asking that we take a “big, deep breath,” “in, and out,” “just breathing.”
The PSA is on the radio a lot, and each time I hear it, I take those breaths. It’s a great prompt to “be kind to ourselves.”
The pandemic has hit everyone in different ways, but ways that all require adjustment, some reflection. Those deep breaths.
Last year at this time, I was watching my mother take shallow breaths. I knew the end was near because she taught us about breathing when we were caring for animals on the farm. I especially recall the kittens that died in our hands, likely because we just couldn’t stop handling them after they were born.
I listened to my mother’s breath last April, and immediately was at her side in a distant past, listening to her tell us that the kitten only had so long to live. You could tell by the breathing, she said.
So there I was, listening to her breathe in that same way. I said goodbye, and went outside to take a walk through the woods, breathing carefully, fully. And thanking her for keeping a promise when my breath was being taken from me.
When I was 2 years old, I caught pneumonia. I was in the hospital one night with one collapsed lung and the other ready to follow suit. Doctors told my mother to prepare for the worst. She might want to summon the family pastor.
For decades, an arc in this story took precedence. It turns out, it was a fib created by my brother. He told me for years that our pastor could not be found that night but a priest was available. He gave me last rites.
It was all made up, my brother confessed only a few years ago. I confronted him because as I was compiling stories from my mother as her health and memory were failing, she said the priest story made no sense. Pastor Bailey eventually made it to the hospital.
Mom sat bedside all night long and prayed. I was legally a foster child, and my mother promised God that if I should live, she would take care of me for the rest of her life.
I survived. And she made good on her promise.
So as her end was near, I thanked her there in the woods. When I returned to the house that my seven siblings and I grew up in, no one was breathing. Mom was gone.
And then the whirlwind began. A service. A celebration of life at the farm. And then selling the land and the house last year. It was all while this enduring pandemic ebbed and flowed. At times I have been overwhelmed to the point of stupor. Totally stuck, trying to be a good parent, playing the virus whack-a-mole.
To cope, I will sometimes jest that in one fell swoop over the course of the last year, I became an orphan and homeless. The farm, no matter where any of us have been in life, was always home. And there was always Mom there to greet us.
This week, we’ve learned more about the spike in mental health issues for young people since the pandemic began, and also the great pains for parents trying to keep everything together.
You can’t catch a media broadcast these days that doesn’t include an interview about someone’s personal journey. I think the long pandemic has many of us doing life checks, taking stock. Trying to make some sense. Getting to a fuller place.
I made my own deal in the woods last April. I promised Mom that I would try to live more intentionally, honestly, joyfully. It’s a process, keeping those promises.
It was difficult for her to hold onto her promise, as she hinted to me last year. Sometimes, she said, she just didn’t understand me, especially in those rebellious teenage years. Despite being often ungrateful of her care, she remained — I’m sure breathing deeply and hoping I’d come out all right.
I keep trying, and hearing that radio prompt helps.