Opinion: We will sing while you breathe

Signs of our growing anxiety, as a country and as citizens, are everywhere, it seems.

Physicians describe surging numbers of patients seeking help for anxiety and stress. Casual get-togethers, those brief respites from the world’s mayhem, are now often sessions on how to cope, how to protest, how to survive. For many Americans, this is the first time in their lives they’ve become activists. For immigrants. For health care. For victims of violence. For women.

For justice.

This heightened awareness and the willingness to act on it can be invigorating. Every morning, you wake up to another day full of purpose. Until you don’t.

In this time of relentless crisis, the life of the concerned citizen takes its toll. Even some of the sturdiest among us steadfast folks admit to a creeping sense of fatigue and despair. For good reason.

Recently, the president of the United States sided with Vladimir Putin over the U.S. intelligence community. The world erupted. Here at home, prominent voices accused Trump of betrayal and even treason.

The next day, in a short post on my public Facebook wall, I noted the ensuing outrage, despair and hand-wringing and asked readers, “What’s next? What is your strategy moving forward?”

It was a raw and honest discussion, full of ideas but also confessions of exhaustion. One reader laid out a vast record of recent activism and then ended with this: “I am just too tired. I can’t do it anymore.”

Kim Minnaugh, a reader in Chicago, responded with a beautiful analogy of hope she had recently heard during a prayer vigil at her church. At my request, she kindly directed me to its source.

The prayer vigil Minnaugh described was hosted in late June by Old St. Patrick’s Church in downtown Chicago, sparked by a collective need to talk about what we are called to do — as Americans and, for those people of faith, children of God.

“Silence speaks volumes,” Keara Ette told me in a phone interview, “and not always volumes we want to say.”

Ette is director of ministries at the church and was one of the organizers of the evening vigil. She is also the person who stood in front of the 100 or so worshippers, some of whom hadn’t been in church in ages, and talked about how to support one another when everyone feels all used up.

She made clear that what she said was inspired by a friend’s Facebook post. The video of her talk is available on the church’s website. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’ve learned this idea from my colleagues in music — this idea of ‘staggered breathing.’ And it’s an image that’s really helpful to me because it looks at a note that is too long for one person to hold. It’s just too long; it’s not physically possible. And yet it can be held, and it is held, by the whole — the whole body, the whole choir or the orchestra.

“It is the strength of the whole that lets that note be carried forth. And I think of that in these moments where, especially as someone who has not earned but has been given privilege, the temptation is to throw up my hands and say, ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m overwhelmed.’

“But this staggered breathing image helps me, to say there are moments when I need to break and breathe and there are moments when you need to break and breathe. And so when I’m taking a break because I need to, I know that you’re still singing. And then I will jump back in so that you can take your break and breathe because you have to.”

Weariness is not an issue of character, nor is it a sign of weakness. We cannot raise our voices unless we can breathe, and each of us sometimes runs out of breath.

Rest when you need it. Spend time doing what you love with those who love you best. Don’t feel guilty about what you’re missing.

We are in this together. We will hold the note until you’re ready to sing.

— Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with Creators Syndicate.


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