Breathing deeply

Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 18, 2009

Dear Patty,

I am sitting in our rental house, the brick house I lived in when DC and I first started seeing each other. The house is empty now, the most recent renter gone, the next renter not yet arrived. We decided to give the house some time to "breathe." The curtains are gone and the windows are open. Sunshine and fresh air are clearing the way for new lives to enter.

Yogis say we don't pay enough attention to breathing. Most of us breathe shallowly, taking in only a small amount of the oxygen we could, depriving our bodies of vitality. Stress, bad posture and sedentary living keep us from breathing as deeply as we could. From living as deeply as we could.

This house has been breathing close to 100 years now. It needs tuck-pointing and painting, and the living room floor gives at bit when you walk in the front door. But anyone or anything that has existed that long has character. There are big windows, a fireplace, built-in bookshelves, plaster walls and 12-foot ceilings. An archway separates the living room and dining room. The kitchen has a little breakfast bar.

When I lived here before the view out the back door was of a utility transformer station. Now the new federal courthouse looms over the entire neighborhood like a big brother with a big forehead. The connotations are all the same.

DC, a sentimental girl, bought the house a few years after we moved back to Missouri. The house's owner was moving to St. Thomas so she auctioned off almost everything she owed. That's the way to leave a place, to sell or give away most everything you can live without and hold tight to everything you can't.

Thirty years ago, William Least Heat Moon traveled the back roads of America for three months in a van with only the books "Leaves of Grass" and "Black Elk Speaks" as company. His "barbaric yawp sounding over the roofs of the world," Whitman extols the electricity we know in our hearts. Black Elk, who was at Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee, speaks of visions and Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit at the center of the universe. The book Heat Moon wrote, "Blue Highways," was a vision quest for him, its purpose a return from the wilderness with new perceptions about being alive.

I am convinced this rite is necessary for everyone and might need to be performed from time to time throughout a life. For some it's a time in the military or away at college. The destination doesn't have to be Timbuktu. The charge is in a change of scenery and encounters with wildness, including our own. "I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable," Whitman writes.

A year ago I traveled through India and drove through the American West and through unknown – to me – Canadian territories. That trip was my own kind of vision quest, my desire to enlarge my perceptions about myself and the world. Our travels are always more than they seem.

Today my visions play on the walls in this white brick house, soon to be occupy someone else's. I am happy to stay put this summer. The house and I are airing out. We are both breathing deeply.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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