Every Brief Breath

On the final day of 2018, I’m going big with a resolution for 2019. Actually, maybe I’m not going big so much as bringing a more intense focus on something I already try to do: slowing down, paying attention, staying vigilant, cherishing every brief breath. I’ve often thought that rushing, pushing myself, whether internally or externally, has destructive results in my life. But slowing down challenges me. Paying attention requires energy. Staying vigilant demands focus. Cherishing every breath, while literally impossible, carries great benefits, both personal and professional.

As a teacher, it can be easy to push and rush through each class. I want to cross tasks off my lists. I want to “cover” material. Slowing down, carefully listening to my students, crafting better questions– all this takes focus and energy. It’s better for me and it’s definitely better for my students. Imagine if every time a student raised his hand and slowly readied my self to listen carefully. Imagine if before every student essay or poem I read, I slowed myself down to deliberately hear this student. I would learn more from my students and my reflections back to them would serve them better.

As a poet and writer, I have learned the value of slowness and deliberation. But I still sometimes rush in my own work. Out of a desire to finish, to complete something, I can push aside the deeper look that taking my time offers. Sometimes the deeper look challenges me to re-think a phrase or a line when I’d rather keep it moving. I know the value of taking my time and the more I do, my work improves.

One truth I know, especially after this first full year with cancer, is that every breath is brief. Fragility lives at the heart of all things. This truth makes cherishing every brief breath an essential practice. One worth the commitment.


Photograph: Boulder Bridge, Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. by J. Ross


2 Responses to Every Brief Breath

  1. Sally J Bellerose December 31, 2018 at 10:23 pm #

    Breathing a little slower, a little easier, having read your words. Much love in 2019. Sally Bellerose

  2. Christopher W Cox January 4, 2019 at 7:02 pm #

    Thank you, Joe; this is a good reminder.

    A teacher that comes to mind, who observed your “carefully listening to my students,” was Catherine LaCugna. A question would be asked. You would see her blink a few times before responding. Then, back in the early 90s, we called it “engaging the hard drive.” It was not just a task of the mind but also the heart. She did listen deeply, as you suggest.

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