A Word on Breath


As I took the train home tonight, I had a hard time catching my breath. Tears fell from my eyes as I thought about all that has happened in the past week. Here’s the thing – at any given time in our world, trauma and death and suffering occur. It’s not lost on me that so many of our global community suffers and we turn a blind eye, ear and heart away from them. But this week…this week, has been too much. It has hit so close to home. It has become home.

I am an anxious person. I took medication for anxiety for a few years and now only take it as needed. Today, for the first time in a while, I felt like I needed my anti-anxiety medication. The symptoms I was experiencing reminded me of my last panic attack. It was the only time I’ve ever felt like I was going to die. My heart raced. The world around me was spinning out of control. My palms were sweaty. My head pounded and my lungs constricted to the point of me wheezing out, “I can’t breathe. I can’t catch my breath.” I thought I was dying. I think this is how Eric Garner felt  in the moments preceding his death.

Eric Garner’s life was literally squeezed from him. His life was taken from him at the hands of another. In yet another tragic turn of events, a black man died by the physical hands of a white man. There is no clearer image for racism as sin then the gut-wrenching death that was caught on tape. I can’t imagine squeezing the life right out of someone. How do human hands do that? You must not have any regard of the person you are killing as a person. In that moment they must become an “other”.

I am a person of Christian faith and we talk about the life that flows through our veins as the ruach, which is Hebrew for “breath of God” or “air in motion”. As living beings, God’s breath courses through us and brings us to life. Without this moving air, without this holy breath, we are not alive. Eric Garner’s breath was taken from him. As I believe we are made in God’s holy image, I believe that Eric Garner’s death symbolized the death of God. We continue to kill God when we refuse to see the image of the divine in the other; when we dehumanize each other to the point of no return.

Black people in our country and throughout history have been  maimed and killed. We have been systematically broken down, divided and set up to be “less than”. We have lived under systems of oppression that have convinced us that we are unworthy. We are suffocating under the weight of racism and prejudice and hatred that runs so deep, we can’t see it, even as it’s right in front of us.

I’m tired. And I’m despairing. And I can’t breathe.

Spirit of God, send your holy breath into us for only you can save us and lead us to new life. 

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