I’ve live with bated breath, sat rapt at attention, clinging to my last inhale, waiting for what’s to be. Anticipation has been my oxygen, its unreliable tank shooting spurts of air, giving me just enough to just be. This is a stilted life, never fully being and never fully feeling life.
“Rhonda, why are you always so serious?” my party boy baby brother asked me almost 20 years ago at a family dinner. There was no heated talk, no refusal on my part to walk his walk, but he asked me this. I was just sitting, eating and being. He could see this, right pass my constant cool and from my lack of laughter and emotionless fits. “Why don’t you loosen up?” I was not a debater and pre-salvation would attend the same parties he would. I wanted to see what he saw, why he saw what he saw so he could help me release whatever was holding my breath.
“Serious? What did I do to make you say that?”
“It’s just the way you look.”
“So what do you think I need to do to stop being so serious?”
“I don’t know. You just need to lighten up.”
He was demanding from a point of perception that he couldn’t explain. I was desperate to understand.
People exercise to “release” pent up emotions and stressful weeks, but even in aerobics class the teacher reminds students to breathe. We even go there trying to control our breath like withholding will loosen tightened muscles and get us to move the way we desire. The teacher knows we need to breathe, ensuring our entire body gets oxygenated and moves at full capacity. This is what office workers, floor supervisors, housekeepers, managers and mothers want, to breathe when work is tough, when we can’t erase our children’s hurt, when our husbands give us the flux. We want to breathe fresh air when all is stale and stinky about. But we want to know “How do you breathe?”
For years I’ve struggled to discover what was behind my brother’s questioning, to learn why I lived with bated breath that transformed my face. How could I breathe in seemingly easy places and undisputed hard spaces, to live fully being and fully feeling?
I didn’t know how little oxygen I lived on until the day I felt my nostrils open wide, my chest move easy and I declared, “I’m not holding my breath.” I had released the roller coaster inhale to brace myself for the uphill climbs, downhill rides and twists and turns that every life brings. I was breathing easy like carefree children who know their parents will take care of their every need. I had embraced that child-like security, some months before trying Matthew 11:29-30:
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I cut the yoke of perfectionism and other meaningless manacles that wouldn’t let me rest until every task was complete. My daily ‘To Do’ lists turned into weeks and months and the only thing that fell apart was me. I wanted to be oblivious like the children and gracious like my husband so I shortened my daily lists and lengthened the other ones, knowing God’s yoke would guide me to get the priorities done. Wearing wrinkled clothes and eating sandwiches for breakfast never killed nobody! They have helped save me, giving me a new oxygen tank full of grace pumping a life of easy breathing.
By Rhonda J. Smith, Musings of a (Recovering) Strong Black Woman