The Air We Breathe

Today is a terribly stifling day. The air feels thick and slimy on my skin and in my nostrils. Everybody’s face is frowning; thin lipped and frozen in that typical endurance grip. If today’s air quality is any indication of the future, we should be worried. I’m standing at an intersection. I watch the row of bumper to bumper cars beeping and hustling a bus. The concrete is hot and although the river is not too far off, the air is heavy, staggering. Those standing closest to the river feel like they are in nature. Several bodies stretching and sitting on a 4X4 patch of grass feel like they are in nature. I think, let’s close our eyes and pretend that we are alone in our private grass, that the buildings and smog don’t exist, nor exhaust fumes.

On my walk home, I wonder about my practice and the importance of air. I breathe in and I breathe out. Besides meditation I’m wondering about how mindfulness relates to my views on the climate and my understanding of social ecology. My brain is trying to make connections. What is the action?

I return home and turn on the AC. I watch a movie about human beings living in space. The set is a detailed floating capsule with vents pumping clean air into the room. Actors are floating and look intelligent. I think about COVID-19 and how we’re all floating in our bubbles, scared and isolated, no trust to connect with others, no trusting the air we breathe.

I am alone, I sit, I breathe, I contemplate, I read and that’s all good. Still, I want to go out in spite of the suffocating air and the humidity because it’s my earth too and I am hungry for the outdoors and seeing people. I want to tear off my mask and I want to talk to people, see their mouth. I want to touch someone’s arm and do all those things that make us feel good and make us feel alive and connected. So, I think there’s a small war going on against our humanity. And I think air quality and the environment we choose to live in matter right now.

I look out the closed window sadly. Thoughts that follow are an interrogation of selfishness and selflessness and then I remember all the years working in the poorest of neighborhoods, in the inner city. I was doing some good in the world. The environment was toxic and depressing but I was fighting it, one child, one teacher, one classroom at a time. How much has changed since? I wonder about the quality of air in the classrooms, the life of all the workers and how if each one refused to work in a toxic environment, then schools and work places and whole cities would have to be designed differently. Just to get the people in. We want to come in, but we need a reason. We need a commitment to clean air and nature and spaces that we can care for one another again.

A million-dollar project just opened up between the river and the highway. It’s a strange looking park raised on top of concrete pillars. The swarms of people going over there. They want to climb the concrete and stand on a patch of grass and stand next to a tree. The whole thing is ugly. It’s an illusion. I think about all that money.  

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