Saturday, November 20, 2010

Just Breathe

"It doesn't matter how much protective clothing you wear when you walk into a swarm of bees. You're still going to be surrounded and outnumbered."

It wasn’t your typical claustrophobia attack. No, this one was accompanied by relatives. I tried to figure out why I sometimes feel suffocated at family gatherings. Maybe it’s the whirr of expectation that blows in the door with everyone. Or the agitated energy they can generate. I’m definitely allergic to verbal stings labeled "just kidding." Thanks to this day's reunion, it was all I could do to just breathe. I escaped to an empty room and called my therapist. OK, it was my girlfriend, but girlfriends are just like therapists, only better - they’re cheaper.

Families. Her metaphor made me realize that families have a lot in common with bees. Bees live in hives. Families can give you hives. Bees are found on every continent except Antarctica. Sometimes I want to move to Antarctica.  But where would we be without bees? We need them to pollinate stuff. And thanks to them, I can call my husband “honey,” which sounds better than  “aged preserves.”

I was once surrounded by real bees. A whole nest of worker bees, and they must have been having a bad day in the office 'cause they were really ticked off when I met them.  I was just a kid, hanging out in the woods with a couple of other kids, when I guess we interrupted their coffee break or something. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, came a flock of flying death straight for our eyes, mouths and flailing arms. (Work with me here - I was little and that’s what it looked like to me.)

The other two kids began screaming, slapping at their tiny attackers, running between trees with wild abandon, and yelling for their mamas. Those were real tears and they were getting real welts. But I didn’t even get one sting. I had recently read a book about bees and followed its advice about what to do in a situation like this: stand perfectly still. Eight years old and not bold enough yet to question authority, I did what the book said to do.

Even though I could feel bees flying around my ears, landing on my nose, and breezing across my arms, I made like a statue, closed my eyes and froze. After about ten minutes, the swarm of disgruntled employees decided I really was just a bush and went back to their spreadsheets and phone calls. And I walked back to the house, completely unscathed.

Remembering this childhood incident, I hung up the phone, sat back in my chair and took a deep breath.

Maybe it was a great day to see things as they really were in this neck of the woods, too. It wouldn't do any good to get upset by the bewildering family dynamics escalating in the other room. And lashing out at others would only add to the chaos, leaving me covered with welts. The commotion would die down before long and, if I could stop slapping at every buzz in my ear, maybe I’d survive all of their 'bee-havior' unscathed. 

All I had to do was close my eyes . . . and breathe.

Just breathe. Stand still, let the swarm pass by, and breathe.

Congratulations. You survived again.

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