Sips of breath

Let’s start with a few simple facts:

1. I move to Malaysia in less than a week.

2. I’ve done a lot to prepare for the 10 months that I’ll be there.

3. There’s a lot more that needs to be done.

4. I’m basically kind of terrified about the whole thing.

That last part is, I think, the most important; it is also, not surprisingly, the bit that I have been avoiding the most since I first accepted this Fulbright grant. Amid all of the packing and the planning and the preparation, I’ve yet to fully embrace just how much this upcoming journey truly scares me. Will I be good at this whole teaching thing? Have I done enough to prepare? Will I be able to handle the inevitable homesickness? How will I be different when I get back?

These are the kind of nagging fears that have sat idle since June, waiting patiently to creep forward and start making their presence known. And now, as the realization that I leave in six days begins to press deeper and deeper into my chest, they’re fully in the forefront, attempting to consume everything else I could possibly be feeling…and I’m not exactly sure how to best handle it.

So, like the good little English major I am, I tried turning to literature for a few ideas. A good friend of mine recently let me borrow a copy of The Essential Rumi, a collection of poems and short prose by the mystic poet. I was first introduced to his writing a few months ago, but I had never found anything that reached me or spoke to me in any particular way; as I flipped through the pages of this book, however, I stumbled upon these four lines:

“Don’t let your throat tighten

with fear. Take sips of breath

all day and night, before death

closes your mouth.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve found myself so struck by words on a page. The lines are plain and straightforward, almost childlike in their simplicity, and yet they seem to get at exactly what I need to be reminded of as I prepare for this next step. There are and will continue to be moments when gasping for breath will be impossible, when my attempts at overpowering fear with gulps of air will simply not work. And that’s okay. Maybe sometimes all I can manage is a little sip of breath, a small reminder that my lungs still work despite the pressure in my chest.

In and out, day and night, until the emptiness is full and whole–so much more than little sips of breath.

Until next time,