It sits on the corner of the garden tub I never use. I bought it at Hobby Lobby one afternoon because I love its short sentiment: Breathe. You wouldn’t think you’d need a wooden plaque to remind you to do that, would you? But there are days when I do.
Today was one of those days. I’m pretty sure it’s not a good idea to get political here—no one seems to appreciate the passion of a conservative—but let’s just say that if you do the math and today is the day after election day 2012 and I’m more of an elephant lover than half of America’s population—well, it’s a sad day for those of us who don’t think much of donkey politics.
On top of that, I’ve had a toothache the size of Hurricane Sandy. Which, by the way, may have had something to do with the washout of the east coast’s support for a certain. . . elephant. Not the toothache. The hurricane. Just saying. Plus, we have repair bills to cover and a retirement plan to adjust to and taxes that are going to rise in January thanks to, well, never mind, and we didn’t get our rye grass in this year in the front yard. Or the back yard. So now the dried up back yard is going to be in my family room every time the dog comes inside from her potty breaks. It was my money saving idea, so I only have myself to blame. I’ll try to remember that while I vacuum. And when the HOA complains.
Then that toothache got in the way of my funny bone and now I’m two days behind in my challenge of writing fifty thousand words in one month. Christmas is coming and medical expenses this year tied our budget up in knots so now my stomach is doing the same thing. Every day has trouble of its own—and then some.
It’s enough to make a person forget to . . . breathe.
“Just breathe.” I love that advice. The first time I heard it was in the movie, Hope Floats, with Sandra Bullock, who just may be the funniest, best actress on the planet. Her character was a gal who’d been rejected despite her best efforts to be perfect. What a drag, huh? The thing you’re trying to avoid by being everybody’s best friend turns out to be the thing that brings you down.
Perfection. It’s an illusion. It’s a goal that’s moved every time you almost reach it. Kind of like those poor greyhounds who run forever in circles after a stuffed rabbit. If they ever caught the thing they live to win, they’d wind up with a mouth full of stuffing and a stomach that’s still aching.
Our dog loves stuffed animals. We don’t make her run in circles for one—we just make her go get a bath at the groomer’s and then we reward her with a squeaky hedgehog. It’s a five dollar bribe to put up with a thirty dollar bath. Dogs sure are expensive. But that poor hedgehog always gets the worst of the deal. His lifespan is shorter than that of a mayfly, which is only thirty minutes. Clinched in the jaws of our mighty mutt, DestructoDog, a stuffed hedgehog has been known to expire in just under five minutes. At least it’s relatively painless.
Nothing lasts forever. Not toys. Not presidencies. Not even bad days. Who said it? Oh, yeah, one of my favorite musical philosophers, Bryan Duncan. “If there’s one thing you can count on, things are gonna change.” It’s pretty easy to pinpoint change. Every week the prices at the gas pumps change. Babies change. Even faster than gas prices. Just one month after my son and daughter-in-law brought home their second daughter, their seven pound angel had already gained a pound. Now that’s fast. She increased her size by one-seventh in four weeks. If I did that, I couldn’t fit in my Lazy Boy.
There’s plenty of proof all around us that nothing stays the same. But for some reason, I default to the idea that if I could just get all my eggs in one basket, keep all the plates spinning, and give the dog all my dust bunnies so she can chase them instead of me, that would be perfection. And perfection would finally make me happy.
It’s not true.
I read excerpts of a king’s autobiography* just now. He had so much money he did absolutely everything he wanted to do without any guilt at all. Kind of a lottery roller coaster ride. He had no debt. He had no political fear. He owned everything and everyone. And he was a nice guy. But after he achieved his own little State of Utopia, he wasn’t happy. He asked himself, “What’s left to do after you’ve been king? That’s a hard act to follow.” And he ended up saying that he hated life.
I think he forgot to do the most important thing of all. With all his wealth and women and liquor and parties and real estate and power, he lived so fast and hard and easy that he forgot the one thing we all need to live. He forgot to breathe.
It’s the hard things in life that force me to take time to breathe. When life gets tough, I get tense. My wrinkles get wrinkled. My worry wart shows. And just at the moment when I fear I’ll fall in failure, I run across that reminder again: Breathe. Then I fill my lungs full, exhale my stress, and let go of that suffocating obsession with perfection.
Life is good. Even in an off year of politics. Even in the dentist’s chair. Even with a stack of bills. Life is good.
I just need to remember to breathe.