The fish on dry land will flop and twist, floundering for the water that will wash oxygen across its gills. Those climbing at high altitudes will feel breath become labored and shallow until it’s easier to simply sleep, an eternal sleep. Diving to the bottom of the pool one challenges the capacity of lungs stretching and burning until the swift kick and thrash to the surface bring the gulp of saving air. Sprinting to the finish breath comes in quick bursts until we can cross the finish line and inhale deeply.

But atop a mountain, underwater, playing or working, the memory of breath will never be enough. The memory of breath might only be torture, a mocking of the one thing that could save and yet alludes us.

We can remember light in the darkness. Remember health in the midst of sickness. Remember love in isolation. Remember comfort in despair. And these memories can revive, invigorate and sustain us until the memories become reality again.

But the memory of breath will not provide life. Will not propel the next step. Or save us from suffocating realities. We must breathe every moment.

So when you can’t breathe, do all you can in your floundering to get to lower altitudes or thrash to the surface or forfeit the race that may not be yours to run. Keep oxygen in the house and take hits of it standing alone on the back porch at sunrise or drink deeply of the life-giving bubbles in a glass of wine as the evening fades. Call a doctor or collapse next to the closest person who can resuscitate you.
Because you can’t live on the memory of breath.

And I can’t live with only the memory of you.