It’s easy to understand why something we do roughly 20,000 times a day might be taken for granted.
In fact, you did it a few times while reading the previous sentence and you didn’t even think about it -- am I right?
Nothing comes as naturally or as easily to us as a biological species as breathing. And nothing is more critical to our survival. Scientists tell us that according to what they call “the rule of threes,” a human being can survive for three weeks without food, three days without water, three hours without shelter in a harsh environment (not counting icy water) but for only three minutes without air.
Which is probably why breathing is right at the top of every parent’s list of things you want your child to do -- and to do well and easily. Interestingly, it’s also toward the top of the list of things parents are most likely to take for granted -- at least, until they experience firsthand the horrifyingly helpless feeling of watching your child struggle to breathe.
Andrea and Adam had that experience earlier this week, when their 4-year-old son Xander came to their room in the middle of the night “freaking out” -- Andrea’s words, not mine -- because he couldn’t breathe. Andrea grew up with an asthmatic sister and a little brother who made regular trips to the hospital for allergy-induced breathlessness, so she knew the drill.
She had Adam run a hot shower so Xander could breathe the thick, steamy air in the bathroom, and then they took him outside for the cool autumn air out there. When a few trips back and forth didn’t seem to elicit any improvement in Xander’s ability to breathe, she knew it was time to make a dash to the emergency room.
You don’t mess around when breathing is involved.
The trained medical personnel at the hospital took care of the problem quickly and professionally, although Andrea could have done without the nurse who asked Xander to suck on the inhaler “like a pipe” (“What does a 4-year-old know about pipes?” Andrea asked her friends on Facebook later that day) and the doctor who said he thought Xander’s raspy, wheezy voice was “cute.” (“There isn’t anything ‘cute’ about my child struggling to breathe,” Andrea said.)
Thankfully, Xander and his parents are all breathing fine today. But Andrea insists that they’re not taking that for granted anymore.
“Before, when I used to look in on him after he’d gone to bed, I would listen at the door hoping not to hear anything,” she said. “But from now on, I want to hear him breathing -- strong and steady, the louder the better.”
It’s amazing how quickly our perspective can change on things, isn’t it? Something to which we rarely give thought can become The Most Important Thing in the World at the drop of an allergen, the emergence of a virus or the discovery of a previously undetected lump. You rarely think about the tires on your car until you hear the unmistakable kathump-kathump-kathumping of a flat. The modern conveniences of indoor plumbing are a given until you’re camping and your next hot shower is days and miles away. And who ponders the marvels of modern technology before the TV remote is lost and you actually have to get up from the couch to change the channel and adjust the sound?
“Sometimes,” said author Dan Brown in his book, “The Lost Symbol,” “a change in perspective is all it takes to see the light.”
Or, to shift the metaphor slightly, to breathe the crisp, clear, invigorating air of enlightenment.
Even if it’s just one of 20,000 breaths we take today.
(To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr.)