Oh the Humanity!

Every now and then I feel amazed that I live in a place as populous as the Bay Area. Since moving here from Maine in my twenties, I have often needed to manage feelings of being overwhelmed by the abundance of humanity. Whether hiking deep in the woods, on the beach at a sleepless 5:00 AM, driving a midnight freeway–I don’t think I have ever been alone in my chosen home of California. Sometimes I long for a bit of spatial, psychological, auditory aloneness.

And then there are days like Wednesday.

On Wednesday, I left work and jumped on a BART train that zipped me under the bay and into San Francisco to see my favorite witch doctor. She calls herself a chiropractor, but trust me; she is a healer and a witch doctor of the highest order. But I digress.

Taking BART can be the best of times and the worst of times. Sometimes it just makes you feel like this:

As I stood waiting in line for the train, I heard echoes bouncing off the bare cement walls of someone ranting. Although it seemed like the ranter was speaking English, it was completely indecipherable and, of course, heading in my direction. For once, the train pulled in at exactly the right moment: the ranter, a husky-voiced stout little woman, draped in an Indian sari came into view. She got on the train and sat down next to a young, bright-eyed Millennial. As the train pulled out, the ranter’s eyes bulged and her head craned 90 degrees to look at her seatmate and I heard spooky organ music in minor chords. Bon voyage, happy travelers!

Chuckling to myself, I wandered up 16th Street, destination Castro. I love 16th Street. There are still a few commerce holders-on that have been here since the days of my youth when this was “my” neighborhood, like the Roxy Theater, Pancho Villa Taqueria (burritos bigger than a baby’s head…), and Kilowatt dive bar extraordinaire, but there are always new and interesting places popping up. Eye Candy for the Curious! Or the Candy Store Collective, if you prefer (how the heck do they do that thing with the succulents?):

Anyway, as I was walking to my appointment, soaking up all the Mission I could stand, this wild cacophony came from above and was everywhere at once. In those seconds the brain takes to process stimuli, I was confused and disoriented, but then I remembered: Parrots! I looked up in time to see a small flock fly overhead, squawking for all they were worth. San Francisco is home to several flocks of wild parrots. As crazy as that is, it’s also perfectly San Francisco, unless of course they live in your neighborhood. Those parrots have got to be the noisiest neighbors in The City!

After my visit with Dr. Ferraro, I was famished. I made my way back toward the BART station & stopped for a sausage and beer at Gestalt Haus. As luck would have it, the table beside me was full of 20-somethings having a meeting. My ears perked like antennae while I maintained my disinterested demeanor–it was the Occupy movement of San Francisco plotting their next action.

The location (Barnes & Noble) and the issue (399 remaining tigers–where, what type, I don’t know) had been established. The challenge, as I understood it, was to link these two things and develop catchy phrases and a chant. After a process that was a combination of support and challenge, they seemed to have a loose link between the bookstore and de-forestation (I think) and a phrase, “Barnes and Noble, Be Noble.”

And with that, I pushed my stool away from the bar and headed home sated, satisfied, and content to swim in the human soup.

Breathe

“…A fish would be the last creature on earth to discover water, so totally…immersed in it is he.”

We could say the same about humans and the air we breathe. Most of us take air utterly for granted, seldom thinking about its availability. I’ve recently had cause to pause on the air issue and consider it consciously.

I realized long ago when I was studying yoga with my dear friend Mary Beth Robertson that I forget to breathe. I am remembering this lesson all over again in my work at Core Cat Pilates, where I am regaining some long-lost strength. Who would have thought? How could a person forget to breathe?

Of course, I am sitting here breathing unconsciously. There are times, however, when using breath more deeply and consciously seems to help: when stretching a big ol’ reluctant muscle, the moment before opening your mouth in anger, when facing a daunting pile of work that’s all due. Taking a moment to breathe helps reduce our tendency to cling to pain or speak thoughtlessly or to panic, which all seems a bit amazing. It’s so simple, so basic.

A couple nights ago while out for dinner, we witnessed a young man choking. It was a uniquely horrifying few moments. [His friend successfully performed the Heimlich maneuver and all was well when we left.] But, I have to say, this experience sent me on a tailspin and I am still pondering it.

Not everyone takes breathing for granted. People with asthma certainly don’t. A person with food stuck in his windpipe does not take breathing for granted. In those moments when that young man could not breathe, when it seemed like his light was flickering, his humanity became precious to strangers.

It is said that in these situations, your life passes before you. If that is true, I imagine that he had a simultaneously visceral and god-like experience of his cellular divisions, toddler steps, skinned knees, first love, and second love. Perhaps he had a vision of his mother, enjoying dinner, comfortable in the knowledge that she had raised a fine, healthy son.

Imagine how sacred his next breaths were. Like the most delicate gossamer threads, the finest wine, the purest gold: those breaths were magical.

And breathe.