When I was living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Hurricane Fran visited my neighborhood. Now hurricanes weren’t unusual in the Carolinas, even then, though climate change means they happen more now. What was unusual about Fran was that she came so far in-land, causing huge damage even though we were several hours from the coast. I remember the sounds of the wind, the driving hammer of the rain and, to further set nerves on edge, the SNAP of the multitude of trees. In the middle of the night, an even larger explosive break sounded—when the storm’s fury abated as the eye passed over us, I was able to see that the hundred-foot elm which was only about 20 feet from my bedroom had been taken down, falling with its length running the border of my large backyard. Had it fallen the other way, I might not have lived to write this. It took years, many chainsaws and a stump grinder before it was cleared and where the root ball had been we put in a small pond.
The thing is, that after realizing that we had narrowly escaped with our lives, we then had to survive the other side of the storm, which returned with winds, rain and tree-wrestling for several more hours. When the wind was just loud and the rain was just hard and the remaining trees seemed safe, we fell asleep, exhausted. In the morning, we were awakened by heat and humidity—the air conditioning to which we were accustomed in September wasn’t there and, in fact, it would be close to two weeks before we got power. We were glad to be alive, glad not to have had worst damage, stuck in our neighborhood for days because of all the trees across roads—and thoroughly beat.
I remembered that feeling this week as we emerged from the other side of a one-of-a-kind presidential inauguration. Glad, grateful and weary to the bone. Across the airwaves and in private conversations, people said two things:
“Whew, finally I can take a breath!”
“We have a lot of work to do.”
So this weekend, let’s take that breath so we can take up the work that is before us. Here is my wish for each of us:
For so long our breath has been captured, caught behind our tensions and our fears. So tonight, though our labors await soon, let us BREATHE. May our inhalation be deepened as we let go of some of our fears and anger. May our exhalation be a release of the overwhelming burdens to the heart, mind, and spirit which have so bound us in these last years. To amass a store of love and connection and true peace in the world will take our efforts in the coming days. Today may we take one breath for every sleepless night when we have laid awake worried, one for the unthinkable thought we have borne, and one for the affronts to the family of humanity. And one more just to remember how precious our shared world is and how we create its possibilities.