Greetings! Recent events over the last few months have heightened our awareness of the breath: the challenges in breathing associated with COVID; the earth getting a breather with people staying in place; and protests with the words, “I can’t breathe”. This post, written by friend and colleague, Catherine Walker, brings another perspective to the idea of breathing. Catherine is a woman of a certain age (i.e. about my age!) who has embarked on a new direction as a writer of fiction. Here is what she writes.
The Right to Breathe….
“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” Corporal Charlie Jones, age 19, desperately tore at his face and eyes that were purple with fire. Coughing, chest heaving in agony, the first aid attendant poured water over his head and cut away his chemically soaked uniform. The sickly green gray cloud drifted on the soft April breeze across the killing fields of Ypres, turning yellow on contact, causing newly sprouted spring vegetation to shrivel at its touch – its sinister suffocation taking the lives of soldiers silently. Chlorine gas invented by a human to kill cruelly another human. The old lie: Dulce et Decorum Est pro patria more*. Not a sweet or fitting way to die.
* Wilfred Owen
“What’s wrong with you? Chuck thrust the flowers at Jane – flowers intended to wipe away the bruise on her cheek. “We have this new home, I survived the Nazis to return home, you have everything you need.” Jane looked out of the window at the row of houses, clones of theirs; her white curtains billowed in the breeze. She fingered the gossamer white curtains repurposed from last years hastily sown wedding dress.
“I saw you smiling and flirting with the mailman.” His excuse for the violence last night.
“I want to go back to work at the factory. I want to meet with my friends.”
“No wife of mine goes to work, besides men need those jobs. I want you here with my dinner on the table when I come home – that is your job. I deserve it.”
Suffocating sobs racked her body, “I can’t breathe.”
Karam was playing with is friends outside the Saada bakery. The April weather was soft, and the aroma of fresh baked bread wafted over his makeshift soccer goal. Planes overhead were so common that he didn’t look up. Deadly danger fell from the sky. Karam ran to his mother, “I can’t breathe” Still clutching his soccer ball, choking, saliva foaming from his mouth, his skin fiery red blisters, lips blue and tears streaming from his eyes. His father gathered him in his arms and ran to the hospital, a white helmet ran beside poring water over Karam’s face and tearing off his chemically soaked clothing. The heartless villain in the guise of a president, Basher al-Assad, unleashed cruel chemicals on children playing in the streets of Douma Syria.
“I can’t breathe” George Floyd pleaded. White law enforcement officer charged with protection of citizens pressed on his neck, hands in pockets, grin on face as if posing for a picture of a big game hunter. George cried for his mother. His pleas ignored by other officers complicit in the racial murder – all over a questionable $20 bill – now forgotten. Is that twenty dollars all that a black man in America is worth? Not so say thousands taking to the streets. The law of humanity was broken. Messages shouted, messages demanded, messages pleaded, messages prayed but not heard by the heartless villain in the guise of a president unleashing tear gas on peaceful marchers. Bible held aloft – never read. Dulce et Decorum Est to fight for Justice in one’s country.
Chantal called her boyfriend, “I can’t breathe, he’s following me. I can’t breathe, I’m so afraid.” Knife in hand to protect herself when she heard noise outside her door, breathing in-out, afraid. Door crashes down, bullets from police guns stop her breaths.
Time to resuscitate our people with justice!