One Day In April/Dying and Living 4/29/18
There was an insurance mix-up so I had to wait in the pharmacy pick-up line behind a man who was clearly used to breathing through his mouth. Bona-fide mouth breather. This is the stuff I see. Turned-out feet wobbling in shoes too-far from the ground, limps and vagus knees and uneven shoulders, flexion dominance, that slow curling downward toward the ground, bunions, kyphosis, gait patterns that worry me, runners on the side of the road I want to stop and help with their form. Sometimes I think I can help people, sometimes I think I know absolutely nothing. I think of that Lao Tzu quote: “Do you want to improve the world? I don't think it can be done. The world is sacred. It can't be improved. If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it. If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it."
Sometimes I want to stop caring about these mere physical vessels, temporary lodges for whatever it is we’re made of. Do you ever look around in a crowd for the bodies who look strong and capable, alarmed at how few there are? In certain places there live a small concentration: Pam said when they first moved to Boulder someone at a party asked what she did and she answered, “I’m a teacher.” The shook their head and said, “no, what do you do for exercise?”
The man in line leaned over the counter, looked back at me with exasperation and an apologetic smile and shook his head as he waited for staff to shuffle around, consult the computer, open a drawer and talk to each other while I, naturally, scanned the pharmacists to see who might be breathing with their mouth closed. What do other people think about in line? Amidst conflicting opinions of best breathing practices, at least there is consensus that nasal breathing leads to optimal oxygen levels, air filtering properly, pace better mediated. Was I surprised to see every pharmacist breathing through an open mouth? Actually, yes. The man in line hardly had a chin, his face sloping abruptly down to join with neck, jaw hanging slack, Ichabod-crane-nose dominant, lips struggling to close over a protruding upper jaw. Use determines shape: he started breathing this way early on in life and likely wasn’t breastfed (the biomechanics of which promote nasal breathing, tongue strength and engagement and optimal jaw development) his tongue resting downward, everything succumbing to gravity. I sound like an asshole-snob. But I really don’t mean to. The feelings are compassion and curiosity, marvel, shock sometimes, worry, concern.
I was standing next to an enormous Dr. Scholls foot analysis device designed to determine which orthotic would allay the tester’s foot pain. A sign said “this platform is sanitized on a regular basis” and there were two places to put your feet, peculiarly turned-out in a less than optimal position that could very well lead to bunions and knee pain. I stared at the rows and rows of prescription envelopes lined up under fluorescent lights and thought about the schism between physiology and modern living with its shelves of candy and cereal, Amazon Prime, chairs, screens, cars, video games and the simple fact that we do not have to move well, or even much at all to survive here. Movement is mostly optional and largely compensatory. For many, it’s a privilege. It’s inspired by aesthetics more than want or need. I was revisiting this line of thinking as I watched mouth-breathing guy disputing his copay and the flow of people in and out of aisles.
Later that day I’d find out in the most unexpected place from a woman I hadn’t seen in years that my friend’s mother had suddenly died several days ago. My friend’s wife, my friend’s friend, my friend died unexpectedly. I’d walk around the farm the way you do when you’re in the wrong place to digest a piece of information, my son holding my hand. There would be a strong wind, I’d be cold the whole time, we’d head to the sheep house, we’d look at rescued barred owls, a fisher cat, goats, chickens, a red fox. I’d be thinking that even though she’d wrestled with numerous type one diabetes complications, even though she’d been sick, and maybe because she’d dodged so many countless bullets: falls, breaks, surgeries on her eyes and heart, it didn’t make sense. The HA! of her laugh, the bright red lipstick, they way she used to paint each fingernail a different color, the presence she was at the art center where we’d met. The way she and Roger ballroom danced before she stopped being able to feel her feet. Her calligraphy, bold paint strokes, her slowly diminishing sight, her bookishness, the way she’d scrunch up her face talking about silly things, her huge band of close friends, how her fourth grandchild had just been born, how she always told me she loved me when we said goodbye.
I’d walk around thinking about all the people I’ve lost and the people other people have lost, and loss in general, letting it trail behind me as if it were a huge unraveling ball of yarn. I’d learn later that night that a local man of thirty nine with two tiny kids and the kindest wife, had just died of stage four colon cancer and a few days later my parents in law would lose the little black dog we all loved, the one they’d rescued, I’d say to myself like a mantra, I hate death, I hate death, I hate death. With the sentiment of a six year old, I’d say why can’t all the bad people die and all the good people and animals live forever, Tuck Everlasting style. Why?
Paying no mind to the comings and goings and well-versed in fleetingness of all of life, spring is now sidling in with its nascent forsythia and lilac buds, poppy and lily leaves, bound buds of hosta, sweet woodruff already green and pert. And dirt. Have you spent any length of time touching the dirt with your hands and feet? Ever been in a vegetable garden for hours tending to all of its complicated needs under the sun, or listening to the sound of asparagus fronds brushing against one another in the breeze, in the gloaming? Have you plucked right from the ground and into your mouth? Have you awaited the promise of seeds?
This year we planted zinnia, calendula, nasturtium, morning glories, lupini beans for butterflies and milkweed seeds collected out of silken purses in the fall, cilantro, ground cherry, mizuna, red kale, sorrel, spinach and willful wild arugula. Have you buried budding potato parts into the ground, or garlic cloves and unearthed them months later to find them magically multiplied? Have you buried things to rest and buried other things to spring back up into something entirely new? Has the ground held miles of mystery, has the ground stopped you from falling and framed the horizon and been the thing that harbored roots?
Do you ever wonder how wise a person could possibly get if they lived forever, or how crazy or how tessellations of clouds and leaves could come together so deftly into interlocking patterns like bright cells of a hive, like prisms, beckoning you to look up?