The Value of a Breath of Fresh Air
Taking an extra moment to simply breathe can have a calming and restorative effect
There’s something borderline magical about the first winds of spring, when you open the windows after the sallow, closed-off months of winter. The smell of the air is freshly snow-washed and outside it’s not quite cold and it’s not quite warm, just equitably in between. Everything smells new.
This is my favorite time of year, and not just because it is when I do a lot of throwing away, clearing out and getting rid of things I no longer need and should have disposed of a long time ago. It is not just because of the yard coming to life and the plants blooming in my garden.
I rush into spring because of the way the air feels to me here in the Windy City, named not after the hard-charging wind off the lake, but after the blustery politicians in the mid-19th century who were long-winded braggarts.
This is the time of year I gleefully drive with the car window rolled down a bit, if not all the way. At home, I consider April through May my “free months” — the stretch of time after flipping off the heat and before turning on the air conditioning. I am free from the spiking electric bills that reflect my reliance on forced heating and cooling. The fresh air will do.
This is nature’s “come as you are” party, without intervention to make it warmer or cooler, the air is just fine the way it is.
Fresh air is not just what we need to fill our lungs to survive, it’s what we need to give us perspective. How many arguments have been stalled or resolved by one person leaving to get some air? It is the space we put between each other and a conflict, the space we need to calm down, to come back to each other filled up with forgiveness.
“Let the air get at it,” my mother would say when any of us had a cut or scratch. She was not in favor of Band-Aids or covering up what needed to heal. The air had restorative powers — it could accelerate healing, it could make you feel better.
We slept at night with the windows open from spring through fall, both my parents insisting that you could sleep better with the rhythm of the night breeze brushing across your pillows.
“Doesn’t the air feel good?” my father would say every time — and I mean every single time — when we would sit on the front porch, whether at our home in River Forest or our summer house in Indiana.
It was as if the air alone had secrets, whispers of truth, and you could hear them if you listened. Sitting with him anywhere, the air did feel good.
When my three sons were small I had a theory that running around outside in the fresh air was good for them, that it would make them sleep better at night. I was
convinced large doses of fresh air made them tired, so any equation that involved moving around outdoors, I was ready to tackle.
I am not sure if the air did make them tired or not, but the sight of each of them with their cheeks rose-blushed and their skin smelling like grass and wind and mud filled me up.
“Just breathe.” I think of that mantra whenever I am nervous or scared, before a big event, before a deadline, before an encounter where the expectations are high and the risks even higher. I try not to think of all that could go wrong. I try to remember that all going perfectly is not a guarantee. And I just breathe.
Of course it is not all as simple as that. Fresh air doesn’t heal all wounds. A little walk in the air does not solve all conflicts. And just sitting enjoying the fresh air is not a remedy for all the ills that we suffer or the wrongs in the world we can never address fully.
When we open the windows, along with the wind comes dirt and dust. We have to guard against the rain so fervent and insistent that it can flood our houses and make driving arduous. And soon enough it will be too warm outside and the air will feel stifling and we will want to shut ourselves away from it.
That time is not yet.
But what if it were this simple? What if we could for just a bit — maybe for a tender slice of the afternoon or for part of an evening — breathe deeply and quietly, with only the air on our skin, in our lungs and on our minds. And close our eyes to remember how lucky we are to just breathe.Edit Module