There’s a saying, I’m sure you’ve heard it, too:
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.”
Such a cliché, but I think about it when my nephew calls to me, voice jerky as he bounces on the trampoline, “Uncle Duane, will you come jump with me? The water is warm!” Sun glistens off his wet skin; slides down his slender arms. So I slip my shirt off and I jump and each time the sprinkler hits my bare skin, I stop breathing.
Just stop because it’s so horribly cold but then I bounce a little more, out of its arctic reach, and something within rewarms my soul.
We eat supper then, our family, all of us loud people around one table and I’m not sure where it comes from, but a plastic cup surfaces before our eyes. And this cup, it wouldn’t have caught our attention, had it not been ruined by the dishwasher. Melted, somehow, during the swooshing and rinsing in the washer’s steel belly, it emerges looking somewhat like, well, it would be inappropriate to say here. But my mother, upon realizing how odd its shape, shoots coffee through her nose and we laugh until we can’t breathe.
So I wipe the tears from my eyes, start breathing again, and I think how tears have never felt so right.
The pamper-clad nephew with knobbly knees and fat legs, he toddles off sometime between then and dessert. And oh, that dessert, warm-from-the-oven short bread and straight-from-the-garden-strawberries, and a boy has never been happier.
Each succulent strawberry, each butter soaked bite of short bread, stops me mid-bite and I murmur my love, swallow, then start breathing again.
That’s when I notice her.
She watches me, across the table. Soberly, her eyes seek mine. And each time the laughter spills from my mouth, each time I fall in love with the goodness of life, I see a longing in her eyes.
I wonder if, maybe, she wants happiness, too.
Sudden, aching sadness floods my soul when I realize I cannot give it to her. That happiness, as much as they say it otherwise, cannot be dispensed. Because the harsh reality is, no one can be happy until they allow themselves to be. No one can truly smile without their heart first being free.
No one can have their breath taken away if they never were really living.
And some days, that person is me.