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Just One More Breath

We've just bid farewell to some favourite guests, have a couple of days off, and it's a gorgeous day outside. This, all working in concert to make me feel quite poetic, then is your warning that if you decide to keep reading past the end of this paragraph... that's your fault, not mine.

I

'm standing at the kitchen counter, on this lovely day off, mixing some butter and salt into a bowl of microwaved, mixed vegetables. Reading the mundanity of those words as they come off my fingers embarrasses me. Because that boring-ass non-recipe is one of my favourite things in the world. One of my simple pleasures.


It's the sort of thing that would pop into my head if I happened to have been so foolish as to get cornered at a party by the sort of person who asks, "If you were trapped on a desert island and could only bring..."


(Granted: it would pop into my head because I tend to eat my veggies with a long, Korean-style spoon. Which could be sharpened into a shiv. And I could use the shiv to escape the party.)


We've all got those silly pleasures. The candies none of our friends like, but we'll travel two towns over to get the last packet of. That beer that they only make once a year and you can only find it in that one store where the clerk is creepy as shit.


The dish your mom used to make and taught to your partner, who makes it for you now... and everyone politely ignores that the two are slightly different... but you'll never ever figure out the right words to explain to them both that you genuinely do think they're both the best.


There is something to that imaginary "desert island" list those inssufferable fucks are always asking about. They are the same sorts of lists you hear on the lips of survivors, the folks who have made it through some godforsaken crucible of (probably human-inflicted) suffering or another.


What gets a person through things like imprisonment of the mind, body, or soul? Through wars or tours of duty? Hell, through the Q&A period of an especially long HR meeting and there's some busybody middle-manager who has a TON of questions?


It all comes down to hope, isn't it? Hope you're going to make it to the end of this tunnel and there's gonna be a great big bowl or plate or glass or whatever of on the other side of it.


But it ain't really about the food, is it? Not really. I'm sure your Mom's ganipganaphfs are way better than any you find at any restaurant in New York, sure. But the daydream - the hope you pin your survival on end of every forkful of - doesn't end when the meal ends, does it?


It's the life the meal indicates.


You can enjoy your mother's ganipganaphfs because she made them. She is there to make them for you. She rolled out the... whatever... by hand and shaped them into little firemen like you like them. You're home. You're safe.


I sit at the table, look into my little bowl of veggies, stirring the butter to evenly coat everything. I look up and out our dining room window into the jungle, all that green swaying in the gentle breeze. The cat jumps up beside me and sniffs around, hoping to steal a lick of butter out of the bowl or right of my spoon... possibly while it's in my mouth. Nelly would tie on an apron without pausing to ask what I was in the mood for if I asked her to cook me a seven-course banquet right now... but I'm eating microwaved vegetables because it's lunchtime and I'm feeling lazy.


I'm home. I'm safe.


The lives we fantasize about, the lives we truly hope for, the things we truly want... most of us already have them.


In the dark times of our lives the things we retreat to for hope as the most elemental aren't bullshit like honor or ethics or country or religion. Even the true zealots out there tend to be normal people who have been denied ever tasting the safety and security of home ever again (and then used by sociopathes to attack other people who are probably in the exact same situation).


It's the simple things. Frequently the simplest things. Food. A hobby. A hug from your kid. Life. Love.


No one, on their deathbed, wishes they'd earned a couple extra hundred dollars. I'm guessing not one soldier, in the history of foxholes, has ever prayed for more foxholes.


There's this zen koan (a koan is like a parable, but more zen-like), that goes like this.


A guy walks into a forest (yeah, they mostly do start like that) looking for a fabled master. Everyone he finds points him this way and that like shitty-8-bit NPCs until he finally comes to a river.


And there's this old dude sitting by the river that you would certainly be suspicious of because you know how these stories go. But, unfortunately, our pilgrim is a fucking idiot, so he asks the guy, "Hey, have you heard of a great zen master around these parts?"


The old man rolls his eyes as if to say, "Fucking pilgrims," and responds, "Yeah, sure, I know that dude. He lives on the other side of the river. What do you want him for?"


"Enlightment!" says the pilgrim proudly.


"Hm. Enlightenment? What do you want that for?"


"You wouldn't understand, simple old man. Enlightment is important."


"Right. Important," says the old man, probably rolling up a cigarette by then. "No, I guess I wouldn't get all that."


The pilgrim, urged on by narrative structure and his own bloody-minded stupidity says, "I'll just bet you need me to give you a piggy-back ride to the other side of this river where we can part ways and never speak again?"


"Yeah sure. Glad you brought it up, actually."


Half-way across the river the old guy takes a last drag off his roll-up as if to say, "Might as well get on with things," and flicks it off into the water. Then he scrabbles up the guy's back until he can hold his head underwater.


Couldn't breath. Couldn't breath. Couldn't breath. The pilgrim, struggling and fighting against this wiry old bastard he was just trying to be nice to STILL, infuriatingly, didn't see it coming. But, to be fair, presumably this happened before cliches about mysterious old men were invented. But just as the darkness around the edges of his vision, that were always there before, but seemed to be getting very dark very quickly...


Suddenly there was light. And AIR!


Gasping, crawling to shore, the pilgrim looked up to see the old man casually sitting on the far bank, smoking a fresh, new, and curiously dry cigarette.


"So let me just ask," he says over his new pupil's coughs, "Right then, just as you were about to black out... was it enlightenment you wanted?"


No. They both shook their head in unison.


"What was it you really wanted?" he asked after a long, slow pull.


"Just!" gasped the pupil, "One! More! Breath!"


At which point the old man probably set him up with a workstation in the shop where they make "LIVE IN THE NOW!" t-shirts to be sold in Tulum and then had to get back to the riverbank to reset for the next pilgrim.


Especially apt to divers, I should think.


The threat of drowning aside, however, it's just as important for us all to remember that the things that make our lives worth living, the things we might be willing to die for, but we'd all rather you live for, are right there, right now.


Appreciate them. And appreciate them by coming back to them


Divers, I'm looking at you again, with your "It'll probably be OK" attitude. We do something with a lot of risk multipliers, but we do it voluntarily. Volunteer to be the sort of person who always does it safely, and engenders an environment of safety among the divers around you.


So that you don't find yourself wishing for just one more breath or just one more of mom's ganipganaphfs in a moment when you know you have had your last.


Be appreciative that you can make that choice, to live with the simple luxuries that indicate "normal, safe life" to you when there are so many denied any of those things. Safety. Normality. Choices. Life.


And if you've read this far... I told you... your fault, not mine.


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