a breath of air, a drink of water

by tobias crabtree

“looking to your left, looking to your right, making sure that your buddy comes up on the other side…underwater crossover, begin.” these words still make my heart react. i still can lie in bed at night and imagine these words being spoken in a very conversational tone and feel my breath deepen, my heart quicken. 

i was in a military school at the time. the object of the event was to create anxiety, to be commanded toward a task and to effectively complete the task without quitting. to quit was to say you were finished or fail to complete the task. the consequence of quitting was to be sent back to the unit you came from with the knowledge that you had been broken or were too weak to finish. this particular fitness test was the beginning and the end of every pool session. the students,  four of us marines, knew the drill well. 

with underwater breath-holds, the higher the level of stress, the more difficult it is to continue. some people tried to hyper-ventilate and would experience a shallow water blackout first hand. they were drug from the water by trained professionals and resuscitated on the pool deck while the rest of us swam for god and country…or whatever else we could think of to keep us from quitting. 

the problem was, there was always stress, and so we were constantly out of breath. that was the point of the training: create stress, issue a difficult command and then watch the pandemonium. so it was that i began to learn to breathe slowly, and deeply, even when it seemed impossible. i completed the school but i never forgot the lessons i learned. 

i woke this morning and breathed the air. i crawled up from the floor where i sleep and put water on the stove. i drank a glass of tepid water while i waited on my tea. my mind was working over what i have chosen for myself. yesterday i began a fast. i don’t know how long i’ll go but i am doing it for a reason, i just don’t know what.  i know it’s good for me, i’ve done them before with powerful results. i don’t feel powerful now…and i don’t feel smart.  i don’t feel a lot of things, so maybe that’s the reason i’m fasting. yeah, that’s my reason for right now. i’m fasting to be more powerful and waaay smarter, but mostly to feel things. i’d settle for feeling ok and being a little smarter. 

i have a little trouble finding the purpose behind writing words about what i do, but i do see value in all of us knowing about breathing and drinking water.  breathe! it’s safe to say that the greatest among us must breathe in order to live…in order to do great things. if nothing else, it is that rare common ground that seems to elude us incredible, thoughtful, ravenous, terrifying, intolerant, grievous, loving, lost, wondrous, hateful, ingenious human beings.  and common ground is good. 

ok, and now, have a drink of water and then continue to breathe. just a suggestion.