I tucked my chin into my chest and plowed forward against the wind. My feet came slowly up off the ground, a lesson in physics as they moved in opposition to the invisible force. Tears fell not from sadness but from the pressure, squeezed from my eyes like water from a sponge.
I could have stayed inside, could have listened to the wailing around the corners of the house from a nest in front of the gas logs, mesmerized by fake flames as easily as real ones and wondering what that tells me about my gullibility. I could have stayed inside, convincing myself that wind this hard was sure to stir up even more pollen. I could have stayed inside.
But I didn’t. I wanted, no, I needed to walk. To stretch, to flex, to exert. And now I had become the immovable object set against the irresistible force.
When I finally struggled my way past the open fields on both sides of the road, to the spot where my brother’s planted pines acted as a windbreak, I was able to stand up straight. I squared my shoulders and raised my eyes to a landscape so familiar I have traversed it in the dark.
Mama used to tell me about the house — I think it was her grandmother’s — where one of the daily tasks was to sweep the front yard. The road in front of me, under my feet, looked as I imagined that yard, swept smooth of pebbles and pine cones, resembling sifted flour. In a matter of minutes, probably, it would be pressed down by tire tracks and shoe prints and all the many things that settle onto the ground when the wind takes a breath.
Wind. Breath. I unexpectedly found myself remembering that the Hebrew word for wind, “ruach,” is the same as the word for breath and also the same as the word for spirit. The wind that dried out the earth after the flood is the breath that enlivened the animals and they are both the articulation of those attributes that make us human, for example, wisdom and compassion, but also envy and cowardice.
Wind and breath and spirit. All the same. But different.
I arrived back at home feeling a tightness in my chest and hearing a wheeze, the soft whistling sound that announces, as if I didn’t know, that the dust, the pollen, the wind itself had invaded my lungs, were trying to take my breath. I found the inhaler, shook it rapidly for a few seconds, and, in a choreography I have learned well, exhaled completely before pressing the pump of the inhaler as I breathed in deeply.
My great-grandmother died of asthma. My namesake aunt died of emphysema. In a strange way, this is what they left me and I think of them every time I avail myself of the convenience and the miracle my doctor calls the rescue inhaler. I think of them and wonder, where was their rescue?
I admit without embarrassment that my thoughts, my remembrance of the two women, one of whom I never even knew, would not be as frequent if what they’d left me was a set of china or a chest of silver. This struggle to breathe is our generational connection, a strange heirloom in a family that has few tangible ones.
I managed a deep breath. The inhaler had vanquished the wheeze and the in and out of breathing became, once again, reflex. Outside the window I could see the trees still bending, the dirt still rising in sheets and swirls.
Wind and breath and spirit. Another kind of trinity. Wind to remind me of the vastness of creation. Breath to remind me of my fragile humanity. Spirit to bind me to all that is life. Creation, humanity, life. Ruach.