Learning to breathe together

By Nikkeya Berryhill

Here we are, 2021. While we wrapped up December, I watched my friends post on social media how relieved they were to be DONE with 2020. While I did not feel a sense of relief. I thought to myself, “Just because the calendar is changing, doesn’t mean we are leaving behind 2020.” I wanted to be hopeful. As I heard of my physician sister getting the Covid vaccine. As I saw friends of mine, other frontline workers, being vaccinated as well. As I reminded myself we were entering a new presidency. A new era. Where people who look like me might actually have a chance to breathe.

Breathe Nikkeya, just breathe 

But even as I hoped, I couldn’t dig my heels into the rich black dirt of relief. I couldn’t lean my back against the giant redwood tree of security. I couldn’t lay my head against the cold refreshing snow of endings and new beginnings. So instead, I focused on my gratitude. Grateful I haven’t contracted Covid. Grateful to have survived the most difficult year of my life. Grateful to have a warm home. Food on the table. Loved ones alive and well. For my health–both mental and physical. For my soul. For my heart. And even still, as I exited 2020 dancing in gratitude, I found myself holding my breath as we crossed the threshold into 2021. Afraid for what was to come.

Breathe Nikkeya, just breathe 

Suddenly, there was more chaos. After witnessing the terror that took place at the Capitol earlier this month, I imagine we all find ourselves collectively holding our breath. Collectively afraid for what’s to come. Collectively terrified—as terrorist attacks tend to provoke—for our own lives, our own states of wellbeing, our own senses of safety.

Breathe with me collective, just breathe 

The Hebrew word Ruach translates to “breath” or “spirit.” So as we breathe in, we are reminded that we breathe in the Spirit of God. The very breath of God. Last year, we were reminded of the importance of breath. As George Floyd called out in agony “I can’t breathe” we remembered another Black person, who cried out the same words 6 years earlier–Eric Garner–as we collectively witnessed the life of a beloved child of God being choked away by another human being.

Breathe for beloved Black lives, just breathe 

In the surrealist of coincidences, concurrently, our lives were being changed while trying to prevent ourselves from contracting or spreading a virus that attacks our lungs. That chokes out our breath. We wore masks to prevent the spread, which some argued prohibited them from breathing, while others laid in hospital beds, ventilators down their throats, trying to keep on breathing. Fighting a pandemic of Covid, while drowning in a pandemic of systemic racism.

Breathe with those with Covid, just breathe

I believe that our country, in this time of terror, is losing its breath. Whether it’s getting choked out by those who do not believe in the sanctity of Black lives, it’s being sucked inside with gasps of fear, or it’s being suffocated by Covid. We cannot live if we do not breathe.

Even still, I believe there is still hope.

While we struggle to breathe, new life is being breathed into us. The Spirit of God continues breathing onto, around, into, and through us. Through movements of community building. Through opening eyes to systemic oppression. Through opening hearts to neighbor injustice.

The movements of this summer were like a windstorm sweeping across our nation. Blowing to every corner of the world. Neighbors coming together to finally see, witness, and recognize the horrors done to Black people. And then, standing together in solidarity. Breathing together as one.

Breathe together neighbors, just breathe. 

We carry into 2021 fear remaining from years prior, amplified in 2020. And, we also carry with us a renewed sense of awareness of breath. Knowing that if we focus on those who cannot breathe, if we focus on the ways we have been complicit in their loss of breath, and if we focus on learning to breathe together then the Ruach–the very breath of God–will surround us, filling us up and flowing through us to BREATHE into existence a new and better world for all.

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Nikkeya Berryhill is a writer, creative arts practitioner, dreamer, wonderer, questioner, analyzer, deep thinker, and deep laugher. She graduated with her MA in Communication from Northern Illinois University specializing in Media Theory. She likes to overthink movies and other forms of media and loves to interpret dreams. Her dreams are often-times like movies with unexpected plot twists and recurring characters. She graduated with her MDiv from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. She is currently becoming certified as a Life Coach specializing in Grief Coaching. Nikkeya is a candidate for ordained ministry with the ELCA and is currently waiting for a call. She loves putting together creative rituals, writing liturgy, talking about God in unexpected ways, and helping people realize how connected they are to the divine. Nikkeya thinks that God is limitless and likes to help people connect to God, their own bodies, and one another in new ways.

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