Archives for category: Breathing

Over the last year or so I have returned to swimming. I grew up swimming a lot — my mother still swims laps at the pool where I spent many summer days with my siblings. I even had a brief stint on my middle school swim team. But as life got busier, the time and effort it takes to get to the pool, change, swim, then shower seemed too much compared to the ease of stepping outside and going for a run. Then a knee injury last year opened my mind and forced my body to return to other activities. One of the things that I appreciate about swimming is the awareness of breath and rhythm of breathing. Ever since those days years ago when I watched my father struggle with breath, his lungs too weak to manage this essential act, I cannot take breathing for granted. Being in water reminds me of the intention behind every breath.

“Imagine drowning,”

he told me, as if he could.

How, I wanted to ask, would I know the feeling of filling up 

with something not air?

So I left the doctor in the hallway, 

and returned to the work of breathing,

having decided to forget drowning.

I watched it, the breathing.

The bi-pap machine swooshed air into your lungs, in two parts it seemed,

as if the machine itself needed to take a breath before going on.

Would it break you?

But then, just at the breaking point,


The air pulled out,

leaving you for a moment

smaller, softer.

Then, again, it pumped you up to a taut balloon.

On and on, this would go.

For how long, I wondered.

I saw that you did, too.

Your face:  resignation and fear. 

Like drowning, I suppose.


I have little to add on this day, 13 years after saying good-bye to my father, on my birthday. We will always be bound together, from beginning to end.


In the body of my father,

I was beginning to find perfection.

Even in his shallow breath,

his papery skin, his bloodshot eyes,

was a godly beauty. Watching

him begin to leave this world,

I forgave all flaws. He and I

together, sharing a

birthday and deathday,

passing long enough to know

each other. He was on his way

to resurrection, a rebirth of

himself out of this physical

world, into the world of

remembrance.  My path

was intertwined – I would

build his world of remembrance,

burning the unnecessary, and

polishing the important. This

world I was making would

hold his godly self. This world

contained my possibility of

living a whole life, complete,

like his, at its end.


It has been 12 years since I last saw my father as he lay struggling to breathe in a hospital room. So much has happened since then, and sometimes I think to tell my father about my life, knowing that he already knows. I always wanted to know more about his, but being far from extended family and the places that activate memory, those stories rarely surfaced. Recently, I returned to Bangkok, this time with my younger son. I realized that although it was the place where my father grew up, it did not hold my memory of him. I am at peace with knowing just what I know of my father and who he was to me in the years we shared together. What I long for is not what I cannot know, but what I miss of him.


As the plane left the runway,

hot, hazy air stretched its long limbs,

wanting to hold us to the ground.

But we lifted up, leaving Bangkok

and my father’s beginning behind.


I thought I might learn something.

But what I wanted from my father

was hidden in the humid air, and

lost in the maze of concrete below.

The stories I longed to hear were

caught in his raspy breath.


Still, he had breath, and

I was hopeful when a few weeks

before he had helped my young son

construct a Timeline of Grandpa

for a school project. In careful penmanship,

my son wrote “1941,” then under that,

“Born,” and then, “Bangkok.”


Instead, we visited Bangkok like tourists.

My father watched Thai dancing,

and ate the restaurant meals.

None of these were the things

of his youth. Youth was long ago,

and the memory of it evaded him

as much as he avoided our questions

by dozing in the van traveling

the streets of Bangkok.


The plane peeled off the ground,

and I reluctantly let go my hold

to it, to Bangkok, to knowing.

I let go the hold on me.