The Gift of Breath

A dear friend of mine recently succumbed to emphysema. Before he became ill, he’d been a scholar and a poet and a social activist. He’d had a passion for beauty in all its myriad forms. His life had been rich with rare experiences and fascinating people, and the whole of the world had been his home. But in his last few years, shortness of breath and a nasal oxygen tube had tethered him to an ever-shrinking sphere of existence — first to his apartment, then to his chair, and finally to his bed. The simplest of activities exhausted him. On bad days, he’d require hours to recover from a simple trip to the bathroom. When he’d try to speak, he’d lose his breath, so the only visitors he’d receive were his daughters and his hospice nurses. I’d write to him on Facebook and, when he had the energy, he’d respond. In one of our last communications, I asked him how he found the strength each day to carry on. He replied, “I pray with every breath.”Since my friend’s passing, I’ve wondered what he meant when he wrote that lovely sentence. For me, he was a holy man, but as far as I knew, he’d never expressed a faith in …

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